I spent several evenings these past two weeks at da:ns festival 2014, an annual celebration of dance held at Esplanade: Theatres on the Bay. This year, as I did last year, I opted to attend one of the festival’s “Shift” performances, rather than its “Centrestage” productions. I also attended two free “Rasa” performances, free lecture-demonstrations showcasing Asia’s traditional dances, and one Footwork workshop, an introductory dance classes conducted by professional instructors, with my toddler.
A few thoughts:
Ballet Baby by Shanti Gomes: My toddler and I participated in “Ballet Baby,” an introductory dance class for little ones (ages 3 to 6 years old) and their caregivers. The class took place in Esplanade Rehearsal Studio, a stunning fifth-floor space designed for dance rehearsals and pre-performance warm-up sessions with breathtaking views of Marina Bay. Shanti Gomes of Dance Arts was our lead instructor and she was awesome; weeks later, my child still says, “Mama, I want to go to ballet class again!”
Dances from Mindanao by Integrated Performing Arts Guild: In 2012, Liceo Folkloric Dance Troupe of the Philippines performed dances from Mindanao, the archipelago’s southernmost major island. I didn’t catch that performance. This year, Integrated Performing Arts Guild of the Philippines showcased a sampling of the performing arts from Mindanao, which carry influences from Spain, South Asia, and the Middle East. The dance forms presented were stunningly varied, ranging from rousing celebratory dances to tribal rites, which were often accompanied by an ensemble of gongs and chimes known as Kulintang.
Bharatnatyam: Rhythm and Gesture by Bharathaa Arts: I saw Bharathaa Arts dance school founders, sisters Suganthi and Jeyanthi Kesavan, perform in 2012 in “En Anubhavam: My Inspirational Journey,” a 90-minute recital featuring distinguished Singaporean classical dancers and musicians. In Bharatnatyam: Rhythm and Gesture, the school’s senior students performed the various components of an arangetram, which included an alarippu, an invocation to deities to bless the performance, and a thillana, a virtuosic display of complex rhythms.
Intermezzo by Singapore Dance Theatre: da:ns’ “Shift” segment is, by far, those most impressive of the festival. The platform intends to “shift” audience’s notions of contemporary dance and presents works in intimate spaces, rather than on the “big stage.” Past performances have turned the movement vocabulary of classical dance on its head, questioned the established conventions of modern dance, and presented unique—and at times radical—movement styles.
Singapore Dance Theatre’s Intermezzo was a triple bill of new creations by Toru Shimazaki, professor of dance at Kobe College, Ma Cong, resident choreographer of Tulsa Ballet, and Christina Chan, dancer-choreographer with Frontier Danceland. Ma Cong’s “Shadow’s Edge” was just remarkable. The music from “Aheym,” a collaboration between National guitarist Bryce Dessner and new music string quartet the Kronos Quartet served as the piece’s inspiration, according to the choreographer. Ma Cong trained in traditional classical Chinese Dance at Beijing Dance Academy before he began his training at the National Ballet of China; the influence of both of these styles of dance are evident in his brilliant, energetic creation.
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An observation, with no conclusion:
In years past, many of the Centrestage productions have been European, aside from performances by Japan’s Sankai Juku in 2012 and Brazil’s Grupo Corpo in 2013. This year Centrestage featured two performances from the UK and one from Spain. (The 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 editions of da:ns festival have all featured a Flamenco performance. Now, I love Flamenco as much as the next person, but….)
Centrestage says it brings to stage “stunning productions from around the world,” but has yet to feature an African production or South Asian production, at least in the four years that I have attended the festival. I have no doubt that a blockbuster dance performance from India or China, for example, would draw audiences. But the former seem relegated to Kalaa Utsavam: Indian Festival of Arts and the latter, to Huayi: Chinese Festival of Arts.
The above is largely a “note to self.” Recently, I’ve been paying much more attention to the ways in which the performing arts are programmed, marketing, and covered in the media in preparation for my participation in the inaugural international Conference on Bharatanatyam in Singapore, “The Emergence, Development and Future Directions of Bharatanatyam in Singapore and Malaysia,” on December 6 and 7 at Stephen Riady Centre, University Town, National University of Singapore. As I said, I have no “conclusions,” per se; I need to collect more data!