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Ecnad Project Limited

"Fantasy Creatures and Other Things"

Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore

December 21, 2001
By Malcolm Tay


Formerly known as Dance Dimension Project or DDP for short, Ecnad Project Limited was founded in 1996 as Singapore's first full-time contemporary dance group. Today, it is more accurately described as a multidisciplinary movement-based company, aimed at challenging the definition of dance and performance space. Led by artistic co-directors and founding members Lim Chin Huat and Tan How Choon, Ecnad is no stranger to performing overseas, as well as collaborative projects with various foreign artists like Indonesian dance artist Bimo Wiwohatmo, Maxine Heppner from Canada and San Francisco-based Michelle Stortz.

Since the days of DDP, the company has shaped its own brand of dance theatre – mostly full-length productions that combine nuanced movement with innovative costume and set designs by Lim [Chin Huat], specially commissioned music, and other elements like spoken text, animation and video processing. The beautifully depressing a-the-bird, which was last seen by sell-out audiences at the Belgrade International Theatre Festival in September this year, is one such work that best exemplifies its efforts. Ecnad's latest season, Fantasy Creatures and Other Things – its year-end presentation (December 21-22) of three short pieces by Tony Llacer and Caren Carino – was then an uncommon digression from traditional preferences.

A native of the Philippines, Llacer trained at the School of American Ballet on a scholarship, studying with the likes of Eugene Loring, Vladimir Dokoudovsky, and George Balanchine himself. With Llacer's In The Beginning… and Percussion One – Variations for Eight, audiences saw Ecnad dancers engaging in a more technical, academic mode of movement. Set to Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 for voice and cellos, Beginning invokes the story of creation from the Book of Genesis. Curtains open to the crack of thunder, revealing a clump of cloaked bodies that fall away and roll offstage until only two remain. The man, played by Kon Su Sam, is unveiled, his arms unfolded and caressing the air in long strokes, as if using his limbs for the first time. His female counterpart, performed by founding member Choo Leh Leh, appears from behind him, her feet encased in point shoes. Together, in their misty blue unitards, the Adam and Eve figures dance a duet of mutual discovery, carefully walking her in a promenade while she balances in attitude. Another similarly clothed couple (Tan and the experienced Lim Peck Lee) takes the stage with their own barefoot pas de deux, later to be joined by Kon and Choo for the finishing tableau of outstretched arms and arabesque penchés.

Percussion One is a longer, more difficult dance that has the dancers clad in a distorted version of the customary black-and-white practice costume; one half of the leotard is cut off at the thigh, the other half is left long and loose, with an additional skirt for the women. Pianist-percussionist-composer Philip Tan (who also composed the music for this piece), along with vocalist Lim Tiong Kiang, accompanied the cast of eight, located on the left with a microphone, a piano and a pair of drums. It begins, oddly enough, with one man's pursuit of a woman. Lim [Peck Lee], who is at first seated coyly on a rock wearing her black point shoes, receives a flower and a card from an ardent Tan [How Choon]. Pleased, they dance to a reading of Helen Steiner Rice's poem, The Gift of Lasting Love. He then removes her point shoes, as if symbolic of his successful conquest; their bodies move in symmetrical patterns and shapes to confirm their relationship, against a sung improvisation of the same poem. This gives way to a section of allégro combinations, driven by the infectious rhythm of [Philip] Tan's wild, frantic drumming. Turning leaps, piqué turns travelling across the stage, the lower extremities beating briskly in ballonné steps.

Ecnad dancers are expressive, sensitive – anything but virtuosic technicians. Which is perhaps why Llacer's balletic creations suffered from a lack of refinement and confidence in execution, bereft of a schooled, disciplined elegance and smoothness that ballet dancers tend to have. This was more apparent with Percussion One: given the music's improvised nature, the rhythms are quicker and not as predictable; the floor patterns are larger; the footwork is more complex. More room for mistakes. In one brief segment, four dancers wielded slim white ribbons with an awkward, ungainly demeanour. Ecnad, it seems, is not ready for Swan Lake or rhythmic gymnastics just yet.

In contrast, Carino's To Jack, Love, Laugh and Dream. Mom. was better performed, but represents an altogether different style. Currently heading the dance department of the LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Carino studied with Betty Jones at the University of Hawaii when she was sixteen, and has since worked with artists ranging from Anna Sokolow to Kei Takei. Her choreography for this dance is more leisurely-paced, even pedestrian at times, and uses the torso more actively. Dedicated to her son, To Jack comprises of several vignettes depicting scenes from an unknown children's storybook. There is the sultry Mermaid, laying claim to her watery domain (in the form of three sea creatures' undulating bodies) with her slinky hips and wavy arms. There is the pair of impish, jester-like fairies, scooting in and out of the Fairy Queen's enormous red skirt, held up by wires to resemble a giant web. And there is Beauty and the Beast, danced by Choo and Kon respectively. What is interesting about this Beauty is that she is no weak wallflower. She is, in fact, strong enough to bear the Beast steadily on her shoulders, just as the Beast carried her onstage on his. To music by Earl Norman, To Jack may be child-like in approach, but certainly not childish.

With Fantasy Creatures, the five-year-old company has shown no fear in embracing a movement aesthetic that it is not quite so comfortable with, even if the attempt falters somewhat. Rather than being complacent with the usual suspects, there is nothing better than a group of artists with the courage to push their limits.

 

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Edited by Marie.


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