The whisper of the tree
Singapore Chinese Dance Theater
Sistic Live, from August 27
This double bill marked a new dawn for the Singapore Chinese Dance Theater, as it attempted its first large-scale digital production and marked its transition to new artistic leadership.
Jenny Neo, 42, recently took over from her mentor and mother Lim Moi Kim as artistic director, while new creative director Benedict Soh, 47, came from Dance Horizon Troupe.
Neo and Soh each created a 30-minute piece for this double bill, whose awkward English title belied the most elegant Chinese (Qing Sheng. Shu Yu) and its whispering evocation of nature.
The company opted for a stage performance aesthetic, filming in a traditional black box with theatrical lighting and the dancers in full stage makeup.
The broadcast performance was a hybrid of a documentation-style front view, cinematic close-ups, and a few creative moving camera angles that took the viewer in and above the textures of the set.
The Susurration of the Tree of Neo was a stunning dance piece that transported the viewer to a fantastic realm ruled by a monumental tree spirit played by Neo herself, perched on a high platform in a voluminous robe. orange that swelled and enveloped the whole scene.
Five tree sprite figures hidden under the fabric rippled like an extension of Neo’s body. The camera followed the sprites into the shiny fabric cocoon, where their soft, angular solos were layered and multiplied by video effects.
Emerging from the fabric canopy, dancers flowed between sculptural poses of classical Chinese dance. In a separate section, they adopted elements of martial arts, wielding long tree roots like whips, splits, and spirals.
The choreography incorporated a beautifully evocative musical score, created in collaboration with local musicians Yong Kailin, Tan Qing Lun and Jeffrey Tan for violin, voice and a combination of Chinese wind instruments. In a wonderful touch, the musicians entered the stage a few times, appearing themselves as mythical figures.
Soh’s Tempting Hearts set the scene for a sentimental tale of a childhood romance turning into adult desire and loss. The piece was set to a painful soundtrack filled with excerpts from Chinese and English love songs and dialogue from films. The dancers have arranged rows of calendar pages in a metaphor of passing time.
The work was saved from the cliché by Soh’s eye for its dynamic tableaux and counterpoint of movement, as well as by the young actors who performed the choreography with a nuanced playing technique and fine dance. Note two moving solos by Wong Zhuo Qin and Neo Ke Xin.
This digital venture was a great start for SCDT’s new creative team, with an appeal that reached audiences beyond Chinese dance.