The Acid Tongue
Singapore Dunce Theatre
Selected By Cyril Wong
It is about time our local, supposedly iconic artistic institutions such as Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Singapore Dance Theatre receive the criticism they deserve on the international front. In Singapore Dance Theatre's first appearance in London, part of a season of performances celebrating our thriving artistic life, together with the overrated Tang Quartet and the SSO (and not a single local composition within hearing, I might add), critic Debra Craine has this to say in The Times:
There are 22 versatile dancers and a lot of goodwill involved in the trip. But it's not enough to rescue the troupe's UK debut from mediocrity. Choo San Goh is the most famous name to have emerged from the Singapore dance scene… Birds of Paradise is one of those Washington works.
…With its liquid contemporary tone and hint of Eastern flavour, Goh's writing may be easy on the eye but it's bland beyond belief.
I love this line about another choreographer involved in this performance:
Stanton Welch is an Australian with minimum talent whose career seems to have obtained maximum reach…what portentous desperation drives (his) creation? Billowing fabric is used to stir the emotional winds; dancers in long dresses tear their hearts out while squatting in second position as if about to give birth. The frantic emoting and spidery crawls are a wretched combination.
Laughing yet? Here is more:
Occasionally the dancers cup their ears and shield their eyes. The unintentional effect is to make it look as if they are cringing with embarrassment at finding themselves in the middle of such nonsense.
The reviewer does praise Indonesian Boi Sakti’s choreography though, and how it “explores the conflict between rural tradition and urban modernisation.” Still the review is great fun in helping to peel away the lid of respectability that such institutions have pulled over themselves and the eyes of the local public.
In case you like to believe Debra Craine is the only one to feel this badly about the show, here’s some quotes from other reviews. In the Financial Times, reviewer Clement Crisp has this to say:
You think, as the dance gets under way, "Well, things can only get better." And then, malign fate being what it is, things get worse. So I found it with the Singapore Dance Theatre…It is difficult to know what to make of this troupe. The dancers are classically trained, and do their academic thing with determination. The three pieces of choreography…are, shall we say, desperate. Goh Choo San was a member of a family much involved in the creation of this troupe, and those examples of his work that I have watched look to me curiously unlike dance-making, and more like painting by numbers…
The whole criticism involving numbers is repeated throughout his review. After a while, even I have difficulty believing the Singapore Dance Theatre is so bad:
His Birds of Paradise, which introduced the troupe, uses a fearful harp concerto by Ginastera, and offers class-room steps and meaningful poses, placed on the stage without any obvious relationship between them. There followed Maninyas by the Australian choreographer Stanton Welch…and the dance is now angst by numbers. Five men and five women, hideously clothed by Welch, mope and grapple…
The programme ended on a note of advanced improbability with The Lost Space by "Indonesia's leading choreographer" Boi Sakti, which offered incomprehension by numbers…The entire evening seemed to me unwise.
And do not think I am done yet – there is more! Sanjoy Roy of The Guardian has this to add:
The dancers are encased in shiny unitards, and the ballet style - long leans and extensions combined with angled arms and quirky hand positions - is all effect and no substance.
And here is Jann Parry from The Observer:
The music throughout was so over-amplified that the cast in Stanton Welch's Maninyas appeared to be covering their ears in distress. Lots of emoting and lashings of skirts, signifying nothing in particular.
Lots of emoting and lashings on paper then. Do these signify anything yet?
(Thanks to Malcolm Tay for spotting the articles.)
QLRS Vol. 4 No. 3 Apr 2005