By Pawit Mahasarinand
Special to The Nation
I realised the other day that I had been attending the Esplanade—Theatres on the Bay’s annual “da:ns festival” since it first started 11 ago. And with the diversity of works in its programmes, I don’t think this streak will end anytime soon.
Always in development despite firmly establishing itself as the region’s most prominent performing arts centre, the Esplanade has converted a former nightclub frequented by Thai expats, into a new performance space and called it Esplanade Annexe Studio. Here, Berlin-based Swiss artist Martin Schtick performed his solo “Halfbreadtechnique”. His first action was to put up signboards of funders and supporters of this project on the stage. He then quite literally shared both his stage and performance fees with some audience members. The entertaining outcome was a cheeky commentary on capitalism, goodwill as well as the economics and politics behind performing arts management in the contemporary world. And while the new space provided the necessary intimacy, it still needs more work as the audience, sitting on the floor in addition to low and high chairs, felt like afternoon intruders at a nightclub.
The festival always takes risk in supporting the creation of new works by dance artists from around the world and this year “da:ns” commissioned local dance company Chowk Productions. Its work “The Second Rise”, inspired by Tamil poet Rudhramoorthy Cheran’s war anthology was staged at the Esplanade Theatre Studio over the same weekend. It offered another example of how classical dance techniques can be adapted to tell a contemporary story, one that is more relevant to the audience of today, and confirmed the multi-culturalism of the island state. Choreographer-dancer Raka Maitra, who was trained in the Indian classical dance Odissi, and the other three female dancers gave an arresting performance and the ensemble spirit was strong from start to finish. They were also nicely backed up by two virtuosic musicians. My only wish was that the movements had established more relationship with the main set piece, the book shelf, before it started to come into action.
At the Esplanade Theatre, meanwhile, the audience was first swept away by the sight of several thousand carnations onstage in Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch’s “Nelken”. Before long, we realised that this romanticism was in sharp contrast with its themes of power, control and displacement. And in this era of Donald Trump and the migration crisis, this 1982 work is probably more relevant than ever. The mix of old and new members of the company was commendably cohesive and I enjoyed and learned more from “Nelken” than when I watched it many years ago in Hong Kong. That’s probably why the company and Bausch’s works, which place more emphasis on dramatic messages than the physical beauty |of dance movements, are still in |high demand around the world, seven years after her untimely |death.
Other stages and rooms in the centre, as always, were occupied by other genres of dance from other countries, and drew abundant audiences. By proving that dance is more diversified – and the curatorial scheme doesn’t look down on any style of dance – as well as accessible to the general public, the “da:ns festival” has once again made us, just as it says in its slogan, “fall in love with dance.”
- The next major annual festival is “Huayi: Chinese Festival of Arts”,
from February 3 to 12, with dance, music and theatre performances and talks. As always, you can check what’s |happening there at Facebook.com/EsplanadeSG