da:ns festival, we meet again*! My impressions of this year’s celebration, in no particular order:
– Say what you will about how the festival classifies “high art” (exorbitant ticket prices, held in the Theatre or Concert Hall, “Western”-centric) and “folk art” (free, held in the Concourse or Outdoor Theatre, “Eastern”-centric), but we really love the free “Rasa” performances, lecture-demonstrations showcasing Asia’s traditional dances! The Preschooler and I watched “Javanese Court Dances” by Soerya Soemirat Mangkunegaran Royal Palace (Indonesia), “Harao Seigonnabi: Divine Dances and Songs of Merrymaking” by Laihui Ensemble (India), “Nora Dance Explored” by Nora Thummanit Thaksin University Group (Thailand), and “Malay Court Dances” by ASWARA Dance Company (Malaysia).
And as hokey as it sounds, we go to these events because I want her to gain an appreciation of the performing arts in her neighborhood—performing arts she may not have the opportunity to see once we move back to the United States. She loved “Nora Dance Explored,” a complex dance drama performed mostly in Southern Thailand and Northern Malaysia, performed by one of the leading masters of the genre, Nora Thummanit Nikomrat. My favorite performance, by far, was “Harao Seigonnabi,” a selection of dances from the annual festival of Lai Haraobato, a festival of worship of traditional deities and ancestors of the Meitei community of Manipur.
– In years past, it has been The Preschooler AND I who have participated in Footwork workshops, introductory dance classes are conducted by professional instructors, as part of da:ns festival. This year, I attended “Bellydance” by Nawal Alhaddad on my own as well! Nawal, a brilliant and energetic teacher who conducts women-only and hijab-friendly dance and fitness classes regularly at Le Danz, Tampines-Changkat CC, SAFRA Yishun, and elsewhere, led a 90-minute “basics of bellydancing” class. I haven’t bellydanced in years, and Nawal’s workshop was super-fun.
– In 2013 and 2014, I opted to attend the festival’s “Shift” performances, rather than its “Centrestage” productions. Nearly all of the Centrestage productions have been European (aside from performances by Japan’s Sankai Juku in 2012 and Brazil’s Grupo Corpo in 2013) and they are always Singapore premiers, rather than original commissioned or site-specific works. (Sylvie Guillem performing Mats Ek’s “Bye”? Again on the same stage?) This year, however, I couldn’t resist seeing British-Bengali Akram Khan and Seville-born Israel Galván in a Kathak- and Flamenco-inspired duet, “Torobaka,” which has its world premier in 2014.
While the artists’ displayed remarkable, seemingly superhuman athleticism and precision in executing the rapid footwork and whirling spins common to both dance forms, the performance was overall rather uneven: inspired and thrilling in parts, but repetitive and esoteric and eccentric (not in a good way) in others. And disappointingly, the Theatre was half full for the final performance of these icons of dance. Entire rows were empty, and even I jumped forward a few rows and snagged a better seat.