You Have to Feel, Not See

sARTurdays, Part 3

Met Pat to watch dance shows again five Saturdays ago. First was a matinee performance by Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s D3 Contemporary Dance. Kay must have a really good eye for picking guest choreographers because each offered such a distinct voice and vision. Chiok, quirks and all, had her dancers haul in tall, bendy, DreamWorks lamps, their power cords trailing straight lines across the stage. The lamps made for inert and unwieldy duet partners but produced creative lighting effects. Charmaine loosed a troop of imps in black suits and white masks, and doused them in full-out humour and musicality. I loved the directness, the clarity, the chest-out self-assuredness. Last but definitely not least, Aru presented an emotive and contemplative piece, showing maturity not only in content (the issue of bullying given a subtle treatment) but also in form (lovely layers and compositions). Ridiculously, this was her first time creating a group choreography for stage.

It was my second time seeing Aru’s piece. The Thursday before, after Ryan’s Bedok rehearsal, I’d hung out with Aru at Scape Hub. Then, just as we were about to part ways at the traffic light, she invited me to crash her D3 rehearsal. What a wonderful, fun night it turned out to be. I love polishing a dance, giving helpful notes and effective guidance, improving the piece, encouraging the dancers. It has been years since I last did all that, and in the span of one evening Aru gave me the chance to revisit those joys without the actual responsibility of creating the piece or seeing it through from start to finish. This time, instead of scribbling furiously in the Fredbook, I scrawled in OneNote on my phone (with the penmanship of a child, she said). This time, I’d like to think I’ve become a wiser and better person, more sensitive to other humans and more aware of my ego when it gets in the way, clearer about what dancers should do, and what their leaders should not.

Processed with VSCO with b1 presetd3notes


In the evening, we caught Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company in Decadance, a 10-course tasting menu that has evolved through the years since it was first staged in 2000, 10 years into the Ohad Naharin era of the company. (It was founded in a very different time, under the tutelage of Martha Graham.) I loved the moments of assault by sound and movement, and the times when male and female were indistinguishable by costume or choreography. Ultimately, though, I wish there were more costume changes, and a full-length piece may have been more satisfying. Four segments were particularly good:

1. Z/na (1995) – kooky individual freestyle in unison
2. Kyr (1990) – nothing else quite matched up to the power of this excerpt, performed to the cumulative Passover song Echad Mi Yodea (i.e. a Jewish 12 Days of Christmas); this was the first piece Ohad Naharin choreographed as artistic director, and it remains the company’s most iconic – a monument of Israeli identity and (when done right) virtuosity of movement
6. Sadeh21 (2011) – slow composition, repetition, interaction
8. Zachacha (1998) – audience members pulled on stage for an impromptu party, some more drunk than others

Who knows 13? I know 13
13 are the attributes of God
12 are the tribes of Israel
11 are the stars in Joseph’s dream
10 are the Commandments
9 are the months before birth
8 are the days to the brit milah
7 are the days in a week
6 are the orders of the Mishnah
5 are the books of the Torah
4 are our matriarchs
3 are our forefathers
2 are the tablets of the Commandments
1 is our God who is in heaven and on earth

The programme booklet contains a stimulating interview with Ohad Naharin conducted by Raka Maitra, founder of CHOWK, a centre for contemporary Indian dance. I don’t quite buy his claim that his approach to movement, known as Gaga, produces dancing that is “free of style”. To have no style would be to have no consistency, yet I would argue that by virtue of Ohad’s personality and philosophy, Batsheva has a style that will easily and inevitably be described by our pattern-making brains – as athletic, vigorous, gestural, etc.

In talking about tradition, Ohad says that some old ideas are good while others should be discarded. A fascinating exchange about the use of mirrors follows:

Ohad: I don’t know about Indian dance, but it’s traditional in dance in the Western world to work with mirrors.
Raka: We don’t work with the mirror in Indian dance. That’s the first thing that we are forbidden to do, because we are supposed to feel what we do, not see what we do.
Ohad: I love it, I love it. You see, in Gaga, and in any kind of dance that I do, we don’t have mirrors in our studio. So we have to feel. Every time I go to work with other companies, in my contract, the company has to cover the mirrors. I have arguments about this all the time.
Raka: In Indian dance, our masters forbid us to look at the mirror, because they say, Then you’re not alone in the studio. There’s somebody looking at you. And the whole thing is then on the surface, so you don’t feel what you’re doing.
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