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Review: Subtle Downtempo No by Murasaki Penguin and RAW Moves

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Minute observations made visible only in slow motion.

In a brand new international collaboration with Australian/Japanese dance company Murasaki Penguin, RAW Moves continues their 2019/20 theme of Systems, and explores our roles as cogs in the system of society through dance, light and projection to further elevate their art.

Choreographed by Anna Kuroda and with sound and visuals by David Kirkpatrick, Subtle Downtempo No explores the effects social and technical systems have on individuals, communities and the perception of time itself The show begins as RAW Moves begins by telling the audience what they’re about to experience, preparing us for the visual spectacle ahead. As the lights come on, Matthew Goh comes onstage, with the lights illuminating his body while he stands motionless for about 3 to 4 minutes, allowing us to fully take in his shape and body. This allows us time to observe everything about this scene, from the colour of the light to the dimensions of the room we’re in, making us hyperaware of the space we’re in. Time seems to slow down as a result, and we become aware of our own breath, our heartbeat slows down and we feel calm.

Matthew then takes a small, measured step forward, and we’re practically controlling our own breathing as we watch him move towards the back. Leaning forward at a 45 degree angle, he then falls onto all fours, while Stephanie Rae Yoong and Pichmutta Puangtongdee, Dada join him onstage, a shock to our own system with how sudden it is compared to the calm of before. We hear the sound of bubbles popping, and we imagine the dancers are alien, crab-like beings as they begin to move sideways while breathing through ‘bubbles’ of air, standing up to suck it from above them before bending back down. Each time a bubble pops, they perform a new movement, and it is as if each pop represents an expenditure of their energy.

In the next scene, it is as if the voltage has gone haywire, as the dancers express their uncontrollable stress, the mood tense as visuals on the floor and the soundscape reminds us of television static, confusing visuals playing out on the wall as Stephanie stands up, like a deer caught in headlights as she stands completely still and disorientated as the lights turn on. Taking on various tests, from testing for colourblindness or the ability to see and distinguish shapes, they seem to regain their focus, and the dancers open up their bodies slowly, knuckle by knuckle joint by joint, as if someone had put a slomo effect on them.

We hear a familiar sound then – the beep of someone reversing in a vehicle, sounding as if it might have come from the carpark outside, yet we realise it’s actually part of the soundscape. We see that the dancers are performing everyday movements at this point, something we could relate to, before all three dancers gather in the centre. A white light shines down on them, and one sees fine lines on the light, as if it is some kind of tape measure, measuring their steps or movements. The patterns on the light resemble a kaleidoscope of colours, an optical illusion as the dancers carry on, a low frequency humming sound we are constantly aware of playing in the background.

Subtle Downtempo No then, cleverly uses the art of slowing down to affect our perception of time, changing our own bodies as we become acutely aware of everything happening before us. We feel that we are under constant observation, or that we’re the ones making observation, scrutinising every detail for fear that something is out of place, or turn the lens on ourselves for fear of being judged by others, our value in life measured in some way. As the dancers then step out of the lighted area, the light closes in on them, and we know now that there is no escape from societal judgment, no matter how hard we may want otherwise.

Photo Credit: Kuang Jingkai

Performance attended 26/7/19

Subtle Downtempo No player from 25th to 27th July 2019 at Goodman Arts Centre Multipurpose Studio 1 & 2.

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