By Ian Ng
We welcome fresh blood to the scene in the opening act for this year’s M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival. The Continuum Dance Exchange brings the region’s young dancers together, which led to a presentation of a range of styles and techniques in one setting.
A quartet from School of the Arts set the bar high, presenting …In Pieces, choreographed by Sylvia Yong. Clean, precise and with long, beautiful lines, the dancers darted across the stage with ease whilst conveying a sense of apprehension – what were they searching for? A lone pillar stood at a corner, a blank canvas for the dancers to communicate their angst and confusion. A fast-paced piece interlaced with moments of solitude, it was well balanced but the dancers could have varied their energy levels so as to allow for a more dynamic performance.
A minimal set-up accompanied with electronic music, Wetubed, conceptualised by Jamaludin Jalil was a powerful display of feats and stunts. Performed by a trio from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, it started out promising with leaps, turns and lifts aplenty. But without variation in its sequences to balance its dynamism, and without a strong message to anchor the work, the piece soon lost steam and impact. Perhaps it was intended, but we couldn’t tell.
Markedly more toned down, Emily Riches’ Half Glass was, in contrast, simple, less technically demanding and more insightful. Lighting was clever, creating layers and dimensions to the space. A certain quality of movement emanated from the dancers from the Victorian College of the Arts (Aus), through their intricate gestures and coordinated ensemble sequences.
Breaking the monotony was Nobody Talk To Me by Jeon Mi Sook. Decked in shimmery gold dresses, these two brought some of that k-wave into the performance venue, gyrating to the beats you’d be more accustomed with in a club than in a dance studio. Each confined within a box, their repetitive movements were sharp and defined, yet intentionally out-of-sync and their interactions brief, emphasising the ironic disengagement with the people around us in everyday life. The dancers eventually break out of their boxes, moving across the stage with a fluidity and charismatic edginess that the Koreans are known for. It was a hit with the younger ones in the audience.
From the jaunty club to the macabre, we moved on to Visions of Salome by choreographer Ross McCormack. A powerful and dark piece, charged with energy, it was part mechanical, part animal and fully engaging—the female counterpart manipulates her male puppet; the latter has no choice but to yield to his master. Described as a “dance with the ‘head’ of John the Baptist” by McCormack, the duo from the New Zealand School of Dance, though young, never seemed out of depth; their interpretation and illustration of the dance shone through athleticism in execution, sensuality in expression and intricacy in movement.
Turning heads with the closing piece was Twitterverse by Melissa Quek. The least dance-intensive piece had the all-female cast from LASALLE College of the Arts, peppered in the audience, clutching mobile phones, snapping selfies and posting them on Twitter. And the audience was told to do the same. The message was clear: technology is a part of our lives, enjoyable at its best, destructive at its worst. Dressed in nude costumes with pink wings, the work stressed the concept of uniformity to a standard of beauty on social media. Soon, the dancers became more zombie-like, held captive by the self-imposed grasp of social affirmation and expectation.
What Continuum demonstrates is that on stage, age is just a number. With youth, there’s power, energy and a sense of abandon; their agile bodies thirst for technique. That makes up for the lack of maturity in movement, which comes with experience or time, or both. Clearly with young dancers, from what we’ve observed, it’s best if there’s a strong message behind the work. More programmes like this one nurtures the next generation of dancers and choreographers through the exposure and immense experience gained.
And that’s not all, we would not have otherwise known the strengths of each school; SOTA’s impressive technique, to the Koreans’ street-influenced style, to the New Zealand’s powerful emotiveness. While each item possessed its own unique flavour, each was driven by a passion for and dedication to the art of contemporary dance.
Images credit: Jingkai