Thursday, December 1, 2016

'归(gui)' by the NAFA Dance Alumni in Review

Dance performance by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) Dance Alumni

Venue: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Studio Theatre
Date: 26 November 2016
Time: 8.00pm

Review by Jocelyn Chng
Photography by Jeff Low

归(gui) is the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) Dance Alumni’s first production, bringing together the works of graduates from different cohorts in the same platform. Putting together such a production, in the Singapore context, is no easy feat, and for that the NAFA Dance Alumni Committee deserves recognition.

For many of the choreographers represented, this platform is probably a rare opportunity for them to showcase their work. Although there are some good moments in each of the five pieces presented, most of them feel incomplete in some way; such a platform is therefore valuable as a chance to experiment with ideas, to see what works and what perhaps needs to be re-worked.

The performance opens with What is…? by Seow Yi-Qing, a fun, tongue-in-cheek improvisational piece in which Seow interacts with the space and with crushed plastic mineral water bottles strewn on the floor. In a segment where the stage is darkened, she also plays with flashlights, shining them teasingly into the audience. This piece drew some comments from some audience members about how such a work is considered dance – a long overdue and much needed conversation in a scene where what is dance is rarely questioned.

We Leave our Mark in Space by Goh Jia-Yin and Triumph and Disaster by Wiing Liu share similar aesthetics as well as choreographic issues. Both are light-hearted yet reflective, making use of bright lighting and various pieces of music. While both works have the potential to be very entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time, in their current forms they are riddled with issues like overly sudden music changes, awkward transitions between sections, and abrupt endings. In Triumph, the audience interaction section holds especially good potential, but unfortunately fizzles out towards the end when, after gamely participating in a mass dance with hand gestures, the audience is left hanging and the performers abruptly exit. The inadequate commitment in the overall execution further hinders this work’s success – the self-reflexivity of the piece and popular culture references are all good fun, but require complete commitment from the performers in order to work. Pieces of this nature are thus especially challenging to perform, and more work is needed to make this piece truly triumph.

When I Ate the Sun by Kenneth Tan, a very personal work, is probably the most complete and well thought-out piece. The programme writeup for this work cryptically lists only a date, “06 May 2009,” leaving it to the audience to generate their own responses to this clearly emotional work.

Overall, the pieces in the programme seem to have been arranged to intersperse light-hearted or more upbeat pieces between darker or slower ones. However, the flow may have been smoother had the performance been curated thematically. Admittedly, Seow’s improvisational work, although interesting and thought-provoking, does feel out of place in the programme, and may have worked better as a pre-show performance or semi-durational piece done outside the theatre before the audience enters.

Nevertheless, this has evidently been a meaningful experience for the choreographers, performers and organising committee members involved, and such a platform for the continuing development of work by the NAFA Dance Alumni should indeed be supported.

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