Let’s talk about Chant. It’s set to the music of Lou Harrison’s Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan, says the programme booklet; and it’s chockfull of exciting moves which have alternative meanings in my head. You can watch it from 2:35 below. It’s supposed to have repeated motifs of a chant. This clip is from a session in the studio i.e. not the actual costumes.
You’ll have noticed there is a crying lack of pictures on this blog, because I’m quite terrified of copyright issues, and of course it’s very unpleasant for the original copyright owners to suddenly discover things on websites.Hence the links to other pages e.g. SDT’s gallery on facebook.
At some point in time earlier on, I think I mentioned that I was glad for the chance to watch more non-classical ballets in 2014 because they featured soloists whom I’d not seen in lengthy principal roles in classical ballets (though to be honest, I hadn’t watched a lot before 2014). Will say some of this here, and more of this definitely in Winds of Zephyrus.
Chant opens with May Yen Cheah and Zhao Jun; May Yen Cheah in movements that bring to mind an Egyptian Goddess – sinuous, lithe, kicking up the leg like a cougar. Pliable, supple limbs and moving with the beat, bringing to mind rhythmic gymnastics. One part of that dance stands out fabulously – the pair are mirrors, symmetrical and facing each other, and they do a sort of hip-hop-like move, swaying the upper torso in one direction, then the other. Zhao Jun and May Yen Cheah have a very watchable contemporary-ballet style.
Quick mention – I think Zhao Jun dances both classical and neo-classical/contemporary ballet really well and has a very distinctively watchable style for both. This is possibly quite rare, I can’t say. Having a distinctively watchable style for both, I mean – a style that leaps memorably off the stage and into the eye.
One of the dancers who stood out really strongly in Chant was May Yen Cheah. I don’t have a very clear picture of her, let alone any picture of Chant. The one below is from Singapore Dance Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty costume exhibition. (I have added it for the benefit of my friends who like words to be interspersed with pictures.) When she appears onstage for contemporary ballets, there’s a kind of a wave of excitement inside. I find it hard to explain what makes some contemporary ballet dancing look ‘cool’ — it differs for each dancer. But she has a distinctive style and her enjoyment in Swipe! (also by Val Caniparoli) is infectious – you can see her smiling as she moves to the electronica beat, swaying to the beat while en pointe, and making wide swiping movements with the neck and head.
Back to Chant – little parts and pieces. Chen Peng as a reliable partner for a smooth, graceful Chihiro in a cheerful pas de deux, which takes on an unexpected note when they roll over on the ground, pausing to smile at the audience as they rest their chins on their folded arms with one raised leg poised in the air. Like satisfied cats at play.
Girls manipulated like dolls, feet held stiff and parallel to the ground. Timothy Coleman stands behind Rosa Park, lifting and turning her limbs at a touch. Subsequently he is joined by Chen Peng and Chihiro, and Zhao Jun and May Yen Cheah, and the couples dance briefly, before the men carry the ladies off-stage as if they were dolls, their hands held stiffly out to their sides and their feet barely brushing the stage.
Alison Carroll and Etienne Ferrere, and Yorozu Kensuke and Li Jie, as two couples on stage in their element; sharp feet that strike the right points at the right note; strong clean lines; strong contemporary sensibilities and powerful moves; strong, supple, fluid lines.
My favourite part is the last, bits of which are seen in the clip above. The gamelan chiming, and beautiful stirring music that makes me feel nostalgic. Men like dolphins, swiftly cleaving the air with their leaps; women like birds, one curved arm lifted in the air as they stretch up to touch the raised hand and bow their heads. Wave after wave passes; first the women sweeping in from one side of the stage to the other, then the men in the opposite direction, then the women again; lines of dancers carrying with them the music, in waves.
Quite honestly, the graceful moves, which aren’t quite like anything else seen in other pieces, bring to mind images of the Garuda. This is especially so because the dancing is accompanied by the sound of the gamelan.
Tanaka Nanase has a very strong solo in this piece, a slice of which you can see in the clip above. Strong personal style – clean and precise feet. No movement is out of place, every turn is in beat, and you can’t take your eyes off her as she pirouettes. Graceful flexible lines, and what one of my friends would call a “pretty style” – hands lifted and fingers turned prettily. I like how, as she spins off the stage, the men are reeled in and surround her (see part above). It sure helps to have the video, for reference and memory!
There’s a little quirkiness in Chant, in how the ladies sway with one curved arm, how they stretch themselves delicately from side to side in synchrony with their arms. There’s a little air of mystery about these ladies, how they turn their faces, and then their selves, around to face the audience. I love how Chihiro’s chin is lifted a little in the clip above when she turns. That adds to the mysteriousness. You can imagine how this looks, in the semi-darkness of the stage, as the girls turn slowly to the music.
There’s a move in Chant which I think of as applying powder from a compact. You can see it at 3:28 in the video above. It’s a curious gesture, and it looks simply amazing. It appears quite simple, but I think it is actually quite complex to achieve. This powder-compact move is seen in the first dance as well, and it is echoed and fleshed out in the final part of Chant.
In the two dances by Val Caniparoli that I’ve seen, there are very clear signature moves (think I’ve said this before), and it’s always enjoyable to put some thought to them. Here the men are opening the doors behind the women. There the women are strutting proudly, graciously, across the stage, knees bent, going lower and lower as they cross the stage. Here enter the men, pushing aside an invisible air-curtain, some straight-backed as an Egyptian-god messenger, some crouched and hunched with arms stretched forward. And so on.
I just realised I know why I like the music for the last part of Chant. It reminds me of Chinese New Year music 🙂 CNY is just round the corner, hurray!
I kind of feel that my vocab is rather limited when it comes to describing stuff for dance. Can’t say why. I will find my Oxford thesaurus! I think. I’m not into writing lots of passionate things like “it is an exuberant dance” or “highly energetic”. Hence you will see lots of strong, fluid and powerful. (As opposed to film, where I probably lay about with a bread knife too thickly and have been holding off recently because it probably sounds quite negative if I can’t even love ‘The Theory of Everything’.)
It also makes me very uncomfortable talking about specific dancers sometimes, as I have above. Partly because of limited vocabulary and partly because it’s so weirdly targeted and specific. But I think if someone’s dancing is nice, why not mention it 🙂
Next will be the quite breath-taking (pun not quite intended :D) Winds of Zephyrus 🙂 I think.