Site Specifically: Dancing in Place at Rimbun Dahan

Dancing in Place
Rimbun Dahan
Selangor, Malaysia
January 31-February 1, 2015

Review by Joelle Jacinto
From January 31 to February 1, 2015, twelve works were showcased on several sites in Rimbun Dahan’s lush 14-acre property. Invited choreographers either chose their performance space or were suggested sites by producer, Bilqis Hijjas, who is also the program director of Rimbun Dahan arts residencies and the president of MyDance Alliance. The works were then seen by following a tour guide around the property.
Lu Wit Chin and Hii Ing Fung in Loke Soh Kim's Joint-Join. Photo by Zainal Amal Zainal Abidin.
Lu Wit Chin and Hii Ing Fung in Loke Soh Kim’s Joint-Join. Photo by Zainal Amar Zainal Abidin.
The great thing about Rimbun Dahan is there are a lot of sites to use to make or mount work in, sites that allow a lot of space for movement, but also offer compelling features that several choreographers found useful for their work. Lee Ren Xin, in her Asing Asing, turned the sunlit spot in the centre of the underground gallery into another dimension, accessible – and, at the same time, not accessible – through the glass doors that surround the space.
Confusion being seemingly the point of the work, performance artists (read: not technically dancers) Leow Hui Min and Arson Ong each manipulate a mattress outside the enclosure with the sunroof, eventually becoming interested in this space when contact improvisation artist David Lim finally succeeds in catching their attention – not that he wanted to, in the first place; David seemed to just be happily carrying on, on his own. When Arson and Hui Min demand to be let into the space, David forbids it, then immediately vacates the space as soon as the two successfully barge their way in. Of course, once they’ve exchanged spaces, the two boys wanted out again.
DIP_Asing
Leow Hui Min, Arson Ong and David Lim in Lee Ren Xin’s Asing Asing. Photo by Huneid Tyeb.

As audience member, you also tend to ask, is this a dream? And, am I part of the dream? At one point, Arson and Hui Min sit down on a mattress and start looking around them, at the people surrounding them, looking into their eyes. Is this their dream and what do they see? Are we audience members the asing asing in the piece? The work ends with all three boys sitting on a mattress by one glass doorway, peering fearfully into the enclosure with the sunroof, as leaves and pebbles fall from the sky. A new foreign object? Must we fear this, too?

Gan Chih Pei, Judimar Hernandez and James Kan in Existence. Photo by Huneid Tyeb.
Gan Chih Pei, Judimar Hernandez and James Kan in Existence. Photo by Huneid Tyeb.
Asing Asing is very specific to Rimbun Dahan, and to restage it on another space will inevitably transform the work. The same goes for Existence, choreographed and performed by Gan Chih Pei, Judimar Hernandez and James Kan; and Dust to Dust, choreographed and performed by Rithaudin Abdul Kadir, Foo Chiwei and Pinar Sinka. Existence was mounted on the Tree Trunk Clearing behind the garage, with the three dancers taunting and chasing each other around a fallen tree trunk, pausing suddenly to reflect on their “existence,” as it were. On the first day of the performance, it began to rain just as they started, and there was a solemn dramatic quality that was heightened with each movement, as well as with their stillness, their silent evaluation of their existence as they stand under the relentless rain. They ended their work sitting on the large tree stump of the fallen tree, and, together, surveyed their audience, as if forcing us to also think about our own existence, as well.
Foo Chiwei, Pinar Sinka and Rithaudin Abdul Kadir in Dust to Dust. Photo by Huneid Tyeb.
Foo Chiwei, Pinar Sinka and Rithaudin Abdul Kadir in Dust to Dust. Photo by Huneid Tyeb.
Dust to Dust was constructed into the space beside the reflective pond, a sort of clearing behind the artists’s workshop ; all three dancers were painted in traditional Butoh white, wearing white clothes that were torn similarly to the cloths hanging around this area. Rithaudin, Foo and Pinar moved almost ritualistically through the space, taking turns shaking strings dangling from sieves overhead, covering each dancer in a coloured powder. Later, water springs from the same overhead contraption, dousing the dancers in a new segment of the ritual. This colouring and cleansing is at once symbolic and literal, and every movement quite hypnotising, perhaps due to all the possibilities that the space allows.
This work was performed again at the Hari Belia Festival at Putrajaya last May 22, and I’m not sure how Rithaudin was able to set up overhead showers of powder and water, but it may be that these two performances can be seen as very different from each other, just because the performing space was different to begin with.
Siti Noorliyanti binti Ramli and Nor Hidayah binti Hayon in Nurulakmal Abdul Wahid's She Simply Disappears. Photo by James Quah.
Siti Noorliyanti binti Ramli and Nor Hidayah binti Hayon in Nurulakmal Abdul Wahid’s She Simply Disappears. Photo by James Quah.
I am not quite sure if this also holds true for Nurulakmal Abdul Wahid’s She Suddenly Disappears…, easy as it would be to prop chairs and a table for the two stage sisters to dance around and with; though the charm of the wannabe sister – who is not a sister at all actually, since the disappearing sister is just a figment of her imagination – dreaming of a playmate while dutifully sweeping under her house would be lost and perhaps unreplicable on another site. Applause goes to Norulle’s clever choreography, highlighting the strengths of her very young dancers, Siti Noorliyanti binti Ramli and Nor Hidayah bent Hayon, who happen to just be starting their dance training from zero since enrolling at UPSI, where Norulle teaches.
Maya Dance Theatre's Shahrin Johry and Phittaya Phaefuang in Same Space. Photo by Huneid Tyeb.
Maya Dance Theatre’s Shahrin Johry and Phittaya Phaefuang in Same Space. Photo by Huneid Tyeb.
Similarly, Same Space has been staged outside Rimbun Dahan, but Dancing in Place audience members were treated to Singapore’s Maya Dance Theatre’s Phittaya Phaefuang’s exploration of the resident artwork 60 Turns, from where he first glimpses the mermaid, portrayed by Shahrin Johry, beyond the pond, and where he exhibits his apparent infatuation.Later, he makes his final leap of faith as he dives into the pond to swim to his love, surfacing only to discover her gone.
Muhaini Ahmad, Nurulakmal Abdul Wahid, Rozilah Abdul Rahman and Alla Azzura Abal Abas in Seven. Photo by Michael Marvin Koh.
Muhaini Ahmad, Nurulakmal Abdul Wahid, Rozilah Abdul Rahman and Alla Azzura Abal Abas in Seven. Photo by Marvin Michael Kho.
In contrast, there are works that could easily be repeated on other outdoor sites, such as Alla Azura Abal Abas’ 7, so long as the site has a nice grassy surface, and the seven large pots full of water and flowers could be accommodated. And then there’s Housewarmingby Rhosam Prudenciado Jr. and Mia Cabalfin from the Philippines, who originally created the full length work in a Japanese house in Tokyo. An excerpt of the very telling, very touching, very doomed tale of these newlyweds welcoming the audience into their new home was restaged in proscenium stages in the Philippines several times, only coming back “home” to an actual residential setting in Rimbun Dahan’s Penang House. The air inside the house was electric, starting from the welcoming of the couple into the house to seat their audience, complete with ritualistic scattering of coins and distribution of candles, to Mia standing on the kitchen counter in her underwear to recite her poem in Filipino about “meeting you again in the end,” to the final beseeching looks from Sam asking too late to repair their relationship, to their put-on faces smiling thank yous, as the audience filed out of their house, some still holding on to their candles quite diligently.
Mia Cabalfin and Rhosam Prudenciado Jr in Housewarming. Photo by James Quah.
Mia Cabalfin and Rhosam Prudenciado Jr in Housewarming. Photo by James Quah.
Of course, there are works that were created in the studio, without mind to the site it will be performed in, such as Leng Poh Gee’s Kawanku Penari Berpura-pura (My Pretend Dancer Friends), Rathimalar Govindarajoo and January Low’s Rehab, excerpts from Patrick Suzeau’s Short Stories, and the work I performed in, Jack Kek’s Strasse, Stadt. Still, the work is significantly enhanced by the site when the dance is “exported” into it. LPG’s was set up in the balai beside the swimming pool, which is quite small for six dancers to perform in, but this containment of the dancers’ movements emphasised the dancers’ insistence that they were “dancers,” as if to say, “Of course we are dancers, we can perform anywhere.”
Shin Hui Lim, Tan Shioa Por, Leo Yap, Shirley Leong, Lim Hooi Meng and Adeline Chew in Leng Poh Gee's Kawanku Penari Berpura-pura.
Shin Hui Lim, Tan Shioa Por, Leo Yap, Shirley Leong, Lim Hooi Meng and Adeline Chew in Leng Poh Gee’s Kawanku Penari Berpura-pura. Photo by Marvin Michael Kho.
Qian Qian and her pretending dancer friends.
Qian Qian and her pretending dancer friends.
The jovial mood of the piece was also highlighted by the proximity of the dancers to the audience, many of whom were also dancers, and joined in the joking. Most precious was LPG’s daughter Qian Qian, who makes a cameo at the end of the work, but also, while waiting for her cue on the side of the balai, was dancing the steps almost exactly as the grown ups were performing it, in plain view of all. It would’ve been fun to elbow the other pretend dancers friends, point at the little girl, nodding and agreeing, “Yes, dancer.”
Joelle Jacinto in Jack Kek's Strasse, Stadt. Photo by James Quah.
Joelle Jacinto in Jack Kek’s Strasse, Stadt. Photo by James Quah.
I performed Jack Kek’s Strasse, Stadt in the garage, where we strategically placed Hijjas Kasturi’s architectural models to create a mini stadt or city, and which I walked around to establish the featured strasse (street). How lucky is it that Rimbun Dahan belongs to Malaysia’s most celebrated architect? This solo was an excerpt from Jack’s A Wanderer in Berlin, which was mounted a couple months after DiP, and had a large Berlin wall-esque structure to replace the architectural models. The grander set contributed to the overall dark theme of the full-length piece, but I did miss the bright, sunshiney setting of the tiny buildings in Rimbun Dahan.
Rathimalar Govindarajoo and January Low-Siva in Rehab. Photo by James Quah.
Rathimalar Govindarajoo and January Low-Siva in Rehab. Photo by James Quah.
The penultimate work was Rathimalar and January in Rehab, which was created for the Tari Festival in ASWARA last November. With the audience brimming around the sunlit centre spot of the underground gallery, and the “front” of the piece being transformed at every movement from the 2 beautiful former Odissi dancers, the performance had a more intimate feel that was just as mystical and mysterious as when it was staged in a darkened blackbox. The close up views of the dancers not just spreading the symbolic turmeric paste on each others bodies, but grasping the other as if their lives depended on this continued contact, gave an even more meaningful experience to the audience than it had at its premiere.
Photo by Michael Marvin Koh.
Photo by Marvin Michael Kho.
A lot of the time, work depends on what the choreographer makes of their dancers and the spaces they are placed. But there are times that it also depends on where the audience is placed, literally and figuratively. Incidentally, Lee Ren Xin is staging a new version of her fascination with mattresses this weekend at the lobby of klpac. Ren Xin goes back to her original title, B.E.D., which was first staged in the DPAC blackbox as part of D’Next Artist Series, from Oct 31-Nov 2, 2015, but as different as the original one was from Asing Asing, it is obvious that this will be something entirely alien as well. I heard stairs were involved.
Lee Ren Xin’s B.E.D will start at 8:30PM on Friday, June 26, 2015 and 5:00PM on Saturday and Sunday, June 27 and 28, 2015 at the klpac lobby. Admission is free, but donations would be appreciated. The project is supported by the Krishen Jit Astro Fund, klpac, the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, Rimbun Dahan, and Comfort Spring.
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