in tall pillars by ecnad project ltd
11 jun 2002
In batches, audience members were ushered into the gallery on the second floor by way of a cargo lift and a plainly constructed maze. The space is vast, expansive, distinguished by twelve mammoth pillars (we're told they're Roman) and an exclusive area for costume changes. A white line that cut across the room kept spectators on one side, even when invited to move around to watch the action from different angles. Which is sad because the audience is part of the performance as well - we are shown a two-minute film of our pre-show selves waiting in the foyer, chatting in the lift. But no one wanted to budge; silly me was too shy to initiate anything.
>>''It is huge, monumental, possibly never to be repeated Granted that not everything sits happily together, it's nowhere as bad as it's been panned.''
Urban dwellers finding themselves - for Ecnad, that's not an uncommon theme, one that the company has probed from different perspectives during its six-year history. Its dancers have come and gone, and currently, they have grown into a technically diverse, more cosmopolitan group. In addition to artistic co-director Tan How Choon, former engineer Kon Su Sam, and Swiss-born Monique Pillet, we find new dancers-in-residence in Australia native Andrew Rusk, Susan Yeung from Hong Kong, and project dancers Connie Cheng and Loh Yuk Sun. (The other artistic co-director, Lim Chin Huat, decided to sit this one out.) Rusk, with his shaven head, slender build, and alabaster-fair skin, could easily pass himself off as a Sankai Juku dancer. Especially when he contorts his face into a silent growl - scary. But he appears to be equally comfortable churning out double tours en l'air, as he is writhing in butoh-esque agony, so it will be interesting to see how he'll figure in future productions.
Then, in 'Pillars' the dancers, now dressed in white pyjama-like costumes, each lay claim to a pillar and confess their (self-composed) hopes and desires, as they attempt to manoeuvre their bodies around them. "Pete and I are going to be best friends forever," says Rusk. "I love this pillar!" declares Kon, hugging it, his arms scarcely covering its extensive cylindrical surface. In their minds, the pillars are as special as birthday candles, ice-cream sticks, even bosom buddies. Of course, it all sounds so ridiculous, desperate; not that they were ever meant to sound logical anyway. In very personal and peculiar ways, they're just trying to compensate for the isolation, dislocation that they feel in the face of these massive structures.
As the pillared
space is virtually transformed into cold urban terrain in 'Urban', a luscious
rainforest on the brink of extinction in 'Forest', and a narcissistic
sculpture gallery in 'Man', the dancers respond to their ever-changing
environment accordingly. In these circumstances, their "sense of
loss" - of direction, self-importance - is heightened, exacerbated.
PVC-suited in 'Urban', they swing between jittery angst and lyrical aspirations.
Against falling leaves and the sound of Loh's loudhailer Geography lesson
in 'Forest', they wander around in amazement, doing their own thing, supplying
wordless vocals that somehow add a strange serenity. And statues come
to life in 'Man'; Kon and a bodybuilder (Ha Thanh Quang) flex and pose
in only tiny white tights, while the rest bound, stretch their limbs with
ends with 'Dream', a video projection of the white-clad dancers in this
very space, fleeting images of madness and comfort. You then realise that
it's the same video projection that was used earlier in 'Pillars', that
the "sense of loss" is still present. With MISSING, Ecnad doesn't
tell us how to deal with this loss; we just handle it however, whenever
we can. At least that's how I see it.