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VariAsian was held at the University Cultural Centre Dance Studio in NUS on 12th March 2011. It was the 6th NUS Arts Festival and they had many different artists from different fields and different countries to come down and perform in celebration of this festival.
The performance was about the forgotten times of the past. With the new and improving world of technology, we tend to bury the memories and the things we once loved behind. What we used to play with when we were children such as the five stones, hopscotch and the congkak is now replaced with high technology games such as the play-station games and the iPhones. The new generation of kids are now exposed to the new gadgets that would make the traditional games 'disappear' even faster. Sometimes as life passes us by, we tend to leave those memories behind to be forgotten whereas VariAsian brings us back to the life we used to have, when everything was simple and was about having fun with friends compared to the complexities of the current technologies that people are so caught up with now.
'When the bell rings…' by Sufri Juwahir was the opening act of the evening. He was invited to be a guest choreographer in this production. This piece was performed in silence and the dancers used the sound of their movements, their breath their tongues and the slippers that they wore throughout the piece as their music.
It started out with five students wearing bag packs and slippers with ice cream in their hands. They walked onto the stage with boxes laid out as chairs and continued to eat their icy deserts. They slowly started talking and before you could register what they said, their words became sounds. Like a code language that only your friends that know you would understand, but the people that does not know you as well, would not. The conversation started getting intense and looked like they were arguing or fighting over something, like how kids would argue over tiny things. One started to move away from the others, one sat on the floor instead of the 'chair', one was being ignorant to everything that is around her and just focusing on eating her ice cream while the other two tried to solve the situation. I reminded me of how I was when I was a student in primary school during my lunch break. My friends and I would always play with the five stones and hopscotch. Sometimes when there are misunderstandings or just plain unreasonable arguments, we would go off in different directions but the next day, it would go back to the same routine with the games and it would be a normal day in school. It was the same for this piece of work.
They developed from words to sounds then from sounds into movements. They were facing different directions and at their own individual space on stage. The blocks on stage were moved and were now their private space, their safe place. They were 'speaking their minds' through movements, trying to speak what they feel. The movements that we used were almost similar but after awhile, they started doing the same movements like they were making up for the fight. They slowly came together and stacked the boxes into a wall for a game of hide and seek. They would take turns to hide behind the wall of blocks and doing the same movements. The ones that were caught would take a block and played a game of 'hitting the slipper'. Two of them that we caught formed a pyramid of their slippers on top of the blocks and the game is to knock it down with another slipper. One by one got caught and as soon as the two girls formed their pyramid, the rest messed with it and destroyed it deliberately over and over again like how bullies in schools would pick on you over and over. It happened again and again until the two girls picked up their slippers and started dancing with the slippers on their hands, standing up for themselves against those bullies. They broke out and they all were playing their individual games. Some played with their bags, some played with a friend and one was playing the congkak, a long forgotten game, by herself in the corner. It felt like she was bringing back the memory of the game or bringing back an old memory of something she had forgotten for quite some time and so did the others. All their movements were related to that congkak in one way or another. Either making sounds and noises like the beads that hits the wooden base or laying on the floor like the congkak and only moves when someone touches it or places it somewhere else. When the girl played with the actual congkak, the others followed her by imitated the movements or the sounds like they were recalling the days of their childhood when they used to play that game. Like how when you were younger, you had more freedom to do whatever you wanted with lesser problems and things to think about. The only thing that mattered was that every day that was spent was an enjoyable one.
This piece was focusing more on the story is wants to tell instead of the technique and the movement as it was mostly gestures that were used and game playing. It was a performance that people can relate to and can see themselves in it as it was something that everyone has gone through before in their lives. It was about the memories that we keep throughout our lives and the thoughts that are most precious to you. There might be times when you just want to throw a specific memory away but no matter what you do, you can seem to let it go. It depends on us if we want those memories to live on or not. We have the power to make it come back or allow it to disappear forever. Traditions that used to be so close to our hearts that was passed down to us from our great grandmothers are now on the verge of extinction due to the technology that has been overpowering our world. How it can take away traditions and take away precious memories that have yet to pass down to our generation of children. Even though those memories or experiences that we've went through are vaguely there, it will always linger in our minds especially those that matters.
As for the second piece, it had more of an upbeat and playful kind of feel compared to the first. 'Variasian' which is the name of this piece was choreographed by Zaini Mohd Tahir. He is the Artistic Director, the Resident Choreographer and the founder of the NUS Dance Ensemble.
This piece was also about the games we play and how games used to be simpler when we were younger and how it became more complex as we grew older but we never stop playing. It just advanced into a more technological version of the traditional games. Some games we grew up with and some had to grow up with us but we still play.
There were a choir standing at the sides of the stage when we walked into the studio of where it took place. As I sat down, they started singing. I had thought I walked into the wrong performance space. After they were done with the first song, the dancers came out and started running around on stage playing the very old and traditional game that people still play today, the 'scissors, paper, stone' game. When the say the word 'stone', they had to stay still in whatever position they were in and move when the said the rest. Watching them reminded me of how I used to love playing that game during recess period when I was in primary school. The volume and the speed of the game increased as each round passed until it got so hectic and chaotic in the performance space. Their voices got louder and louder every second and it felt like it could reach the other side of the school grounds. Then suddenly there were silence and dancers started disappearing into the wings leaving half the amount of dancers on stage. As the dancers were slowly disappearing, the choir sang a slow and dramatic song while walking through the space on stage, from one side to the other like changing the chapter in a story or a play. The dancers starting dancing with flow like movements that looked like they were floating through the space. Their movements and the choir mashed and complimented each other beautifully like a perfectly fitted ring on your finger. Their movements were repetitive throughout the piece but they changed it a little by using cannons and different levels. Once the song was over, the dancers at the side wings rolled in with a cute, upbeat song that came on. It sounded like a song you would here when you play a specific game in the arcade. The dancers were like the animation in the games with green and pink lighting, it made it feel like we were also in the game. Some were 'crabbing' sideways while the others are running and leaping around them like they were supposed to catch them in order to win. That had to be my favourite part of the whole performance. Then there was a sudden change in music and a techno like song came on and all the dancers ran off except for one guy, just standing there like it was his time to shine and get the spotlight, and that's what he did. He started 'Para Para' dancing alone in the middle of the stage. Para Para is an arcade game that you play alone where there are coloured arrows lined with electronic sensors, and you have to dance and hit all the arrows to win. Slowly all the dancers came on stage and joined him in his game of Para Para but one by one they couldn't catch up and died like they lost the game. One by one collapsed onto the floor and including the male dancer who looked like the king of the game. Surprisingly, the last one standing was a girl and she walked off with an evil laughter with deadly music following her as she left the stage. It was such an unexpected ending for the piece and I think it made it more interesting and made an impact on me. I left the performance with that ending lingering in my head throughout the night.
The evening was a very interesting one as it truly spoke to me and I could relate to both pieces in many ways. It was a night that took me through memory lane.