By Francis Phang
Opal-d is a performance with only two dancers. How much can two dancers do in a performance that lasts 50 minutes with no intermission? Well, they cannot do much in terms of variety of movement, compared to a dance company. However, they are not trying to achieve variety of movement; instead, they use multimedia is used to reinforce their message and bring it across to the audience.
When the performance started, one of the dancers slowly edged her way out. From the audience's perspective, only two tiny lights were seen. The manner in which the dots of light moved resembled synchronised fireflies. Slowly, the movement continued across the stage. As the dancer moved across the stage, she also moved into the path of coloured lights. These painted various sections of her body in different hues. The other dancer gradually joined her, moving onto stage in a similar manner. As both dancers were similar to each other in their body shape, slicked hairdo, dressing and movement, their mirroring of each other's actions were very well co-ordinated. The special mat on the stage floor created the illusion that the dancers were dancing on water and reinforced the images of fluid lines that were projected onto the backdrop.
The dance continued with a (mostly) slow rhythm. Various images, such as scenes of the traffic in Tokyo and the dancers' own images were projected onto the backdrop, which Was formed by two slabs of metallic-looking screens. In the later part of the dance, the five panels embedded into the screens started rotating, and the slow rhythm was pervasive throughout the whole performance.
When the performance ended, I got up to leave, and as I walked towards the exit, I overheard some Chinese nationals remarking, "It was utterly horrible! Well, you can't say that there was a lack of creativity. But it was rather gross to stretch the same theme over 50 minutes with no intermission!" The lady who sat on my left during the performance expressed her frustration and boredom by constantly shifting her weight, resting her head on one hand, and frequently tugged her hair in an effort to keep awake. A dancer friend who also attended the performance told me that after watching them dance for a while, he wanted to shout, "Stop it! I get the message! You don't have to keep repeating yourself!" When he found out that the whole performance was a dance duet, this put him in the frame of mind to expect a poor performance.
Mr Fan Dong Kai, a choreographer who has worked with dance troupes from various countries, commented that the audience had to add in their personal perspective to effectively experience such abstract performances. In the programme booklet, the audience was already warned that this was an abstract performance. If the viewers expected to appreciate such abstract performances without adding in their personal perspective, they would be sorely disappointed. There is no story line to speak of. Hence, there is no plot for the audience to follow. When the viewers have no plot to follow, they become rather lost in terms of knowing how to appreciate an abstract piece of work. There was a stark contrast between the "noisy" mood created by the images of chaotic Tokyo traffic and the apparent serenity of the dancers' movements. Perhaps, this served to bring across the message that as Man progresses, the need to retreat inwards in search of serenity increases. In our progress, we have lost some elements that we should have as human beings. Examples of such elements are uniqueness of personality, sanity, and serenity. That is why some find comfort in retreating to the countryside, where stress and noise levels are usually lower. There is a tension between Man's desire for progress and our desire to hold onto what makes us human.
In the post-performance dialogue, the choreographer, Arja Raatikainen, revealed that some people deemed her work unworthy to be called dance. Her reply was that she did not care! Sometimes, the images overpowered the impact of the dancers' themselves, but Arja's response was that the dancers would be too fixated on their movement to be bothered by the images projected onto the background.
In general, the kaleidoscope of beautiful colours and fluid dance movement created a beautiful performance. However, this performance did require quite a lot of effort from the audience to appreciate. The question is begged of why the National Arts Council chose to import so many multimedia dance performances - the dance performances from Singapore, Belgium, Finland, and Japan were all multimedia performances. There are so many varieties of dances, but variety was sorely lacking in this year's range of dance performances. Moreover, this year's repertoire of performances was very heavy-going and audience-unfriendly. The similarity of the multimedia dance performances spoils the reputation of contemporary dance as it impels the audience to think that all contemporary dance is boring and difficult to appreciate.
Nomadi Productions performs at the Victoria Theatre on 15-16 Jun 2002 (8pm). Tickets are available from SISTIC.