Maya Dance Theatre Release 5.0 Stage 2
What can you do in a dance that’s less than ten minutes long?
That’s the challenge the choreographers of Maya Dance Theatre’s Release 5.0 are dealing with. I caught Stage 2 of this revue witnessing six dance pieces crammed into a time span of a little more than an hour. And while it’s pretty stimulating to see such a variety of ideas and movement styles on show, one’s occasionally left with the feeling that certain works needed more time and space to fully develop.
One definitely gets this sense with the opening piece, Esmé Boyce’s An Exquisite Task. Its premise is strong: it’s an attempt to render of the 1920s surrealist game of exquisite corpse into dance. One might, therefore, expect the work to be divided into three clearly contrasting portions, echoing the exquisite corpse drawings of the era.
What we get, however, is a series of fluid mock-balletic movements by dancers Shahrin Johry, Bernice Lee, and Eva Tey, who’re styled as latter-day Pierrots: hair pulled up in knots, clad in white with mismatched socks, clownish smiles on their faces. This is an unusual aesthetic, certainly, but Boyce is doing very little with it: there’s no sense of conflict or climax in the piece, and little of the discord you might associate with exquisite corpse format. Instead, the piece feels light, perhaps even trivial.
The same criticism of triviality could be leveled at Simone Wierød’s WWW. Its pitch sounds gimmicky, more appropriate for a comedy sketch show than a dance revue: what if TV weather reporters had to communicate through dance? However, dancers Wierød and Thomas Rohe are so completely committed to this idea that the work comes off as brilliantly entertaining. Wearing formal clothes and almost permanent grins, the two carry out gymnastic leaps and dynamic floorwork, while the voices of a British-accented weatherman and weatherwoman chirpily forecast oncoming sunshine and showers. At times there’s almost a word for word translation of the text–they turn their faces to frowns when the voiceover worries about oncoming storms–and their movement vocabulary ranges from twirling in unison to madcap wheelbarrowing of one another’s bodies across the stage.
Is there a message here? Possibly a criticism of the banality of mass media, the forced optimism of pop culture. But mainly, it’s fun. My main complaint is that the work ends too abruptly–though the dancers do make a slight transition from independent movements to cooperative spectacles, there’s nowhere much to go at the end.
The evening’s solo works were generally more soulful. In Anamnese, dancer-choreographer Martina Feiertag re-enacts a mental breakdown: seconds after stepping on stage, she casts away her high-heeled shoes and handbag and whirls herself into an embodiment of despair, first moving through a frenzy of agitated jogging and violent lunges, then alternating between sequences of violence and serenity, equally hypnotic in their beauty. All this is set against a gloomy lighting and a soundtrack of muddled voices in different languages: a representation of inner turmoil.
There is a clear sense of progression here, as the persona works through different stages of emotional suffering, moving towards what at first appears to be a moment of healing–Feiertag steps forward, takes the hand of an audience member and embraces him. But before the lights go down completely, she steps back and screams. This is the reality of depression, after all–it never goes away completely.
Esmé Boyce’s Eyes and the Blinking Lights takes us on another dark psychological journey, though its narrative is one of ascent rather than breakdown. She enters on all fours, her right leg bent awkwardly inwards like an animal with an injured foot. Gradually, she makes progress from a horizontal to a vertical position, her movements interrupted by the spasms of her right leg, constantly awkward, always on the brink of falling over.
This is a moving piece, with lovely floorwork sequences and tender moments of fragility. However, like her first piece, this ends abruptly. Though one gets the sense that her persona is mastering herself, gaining the ability to raise her troubled leg with grace, there is no sense of a climax before the work comes to a close.
The most visually arresting work of the evening was surely Kuda Kuda by choreographer-dancer Dian Nova Saputra, aka Bokir. This piece is based on jaranan turonggo yakso, an East Javanese martial art that’s little known outside Indonesia. Bokir plays up the exoticism of this tradition, appearing onstage in a loincloth and topknot, a spotlight illuminating only his slowly rolling muscular shoulders: an object of our sexual and anthropological gaze. “Kuda” means “horse” in Indonesian, and fittingly, the soundtrack is one of horse hooves, recalling a primal energy of a bygone era.
Gradually, he turns to face us, his motions becoming faster and more acrobatic. We puzzle over which gestures are traditional and which contemporary: a slow leap here, a handstand there, a feinted attack. There is a surfeit of dance vocabulary to take in–too much, some viewers say, for a short piece like this. Yet I love how the narrative plays out: by the end, Bokir is running in a circle, shouting out a Javanese chant, but plainly exhausted, pausing to catch his breath before he continues his circuit. It’s a comic moment, but humanizing–we have watched him progress from being a neocolonial object to an everyday subject, utterly self-aware of the absurdity of his position.
The final work of the night is Ezekiel Oliveira’s Vent. Like Boyce’s An Exquisite Task, it is an abstract work, featuring the dance trio of Shahrin, Lee, and Tey. This time, they’re clad in bright pastels: pale blue pants and pink, orange and yellow tops. But the tone isn’t comic or light–instead, there’s a mood of yearning throughout, signified by the slow pace and the repeated gestures of reaching out with arms, lengthening the body as if to grasp something invisible beyond, while other bodies push or pull back, resisting the urge to move off the stage.
There are some quite beautiful tableau vivant here, particularly one in which Shahrin is bent backwards, mouth gaping while the other dancers form spectacles with their fingers around their eyes. Regardless of the cheerful colours, this too is a work about darkness, or perhaps dissatisfaction, as the soul persists in seeking something greater. Yet there is a dearth of truly striking images in the mix–this, too, is a work that could have profited from a longer development process.
Nonetheless, if certain works in Release 5.0 are imperfect, it no cause for shame. The platform is open to both established and emerging choreographers, while the brevity of the performances lends itself towards forays and experiments rather than full, finished works. One would hope that artists of all levels of experience use this opportunity, not simply to present tried and tested works, but to explore new ideas and modes of dance. After all, that is the only way one can move the art form forward.