Arts Dance with Me Esplanade Theatre Studio Review Singapore

Review: Chinese Dance Fiesta 2021《一起舞 FUN 天》

Digital performance showcases the beauty and diversity of Chinese dance.

When live performances were still severely limited back in June, the Singapore Chinese Dance Theatre’s (SCDT) annual Chinese Dance Fiesta, like many other events, were forced to change tact, and shift the performance online. The change in medium however, has not compromised on the quality of the performance, using clever camera angles to capture and celebrate the beauty of the art form.

Over the course of just one hour, the Chinese Dance Fiesta showcased a myriad of styles and choreographies prepared by the company. The performance opened with Shao Ziwen’s ‘Geom-mu’, a chow sian ethnic sword dance, by the SCDT main company and Youth Performing Troupe. The dancers began with their backs to us, each holding up two swords, poised and ready for action. Dressed in beautiful black gowns, there is an element of grace and femininity amidst the fighting spirit suggested by the swords. Each dancer find their own way to express themselves as they whirl their swords and cut through the air, before coming together again as a single, stronger unit. Perfectly in sync with each other, they are focused on the task ahead, working as a team to forge on and face their common enemy, determined to overcome all adversities as one.

Chinese dance doesn’t have to be limited to Chinese people, as the next item, ‘Phases Within Our Control’ showed, with how it features two non-Chinese dancers. Choreographed by SCDT artistic director Madam Neo Jenny, and featuring students from Lasalle pursuing a diploma in dance, the performance began with a slow, steady pounding of the drums. The multi-ethnic ensemble of dancers is immediately obvious, and over the course of the piece, gives each dancer an opportunity to showcase their grace and control. Whether pivoting, leaping or performing hand gestures, the movements are smooth and precise. Breaking past stereotypes of what constitutes Chinese dance, there is a clear sense of determination in these youths to continue doing what they love, and persevere on to keep performing this dance.

In Soh Kian Leng’s ‘Tranquility’, performed by the SCDT Main Company, one of the first sounds we hear is water cascading down. As the dancers come on stage, it is almost as if they represent that flow of water, with their single long white sleeve weaving across the air. Spinning and tossing their sleeves, it feels as if they’re creating a torrent with their dance, personifying water itself as they seem to glide across the stage, with smiles on their face. One can practically imagine great splashes of water, as these dancers allow themselves to be free and have fun, and embodying the sheer joy of this piece.

Wu Yue Dance Studio’s ‘Balance Point’ then takes us down a more introspective route, as the dancers consider a balance of emotions, and showcase the use of giant fans. Set to a violin-driven track, the dancers elegantly handle their fans, almost resembling majestic, feathered birds soaring in the wind. We get the sense that they have found some degree of balance in their lives, leading to the almost celebratory mood in the air. There reaches a point where the music dips, and a solo dancer almost seems to struggle as she slows down. But as the other dancers join her once again, she too finds that balance with their support, the joy returning as they tackle the tough times together as one team.

The programme’s penultimate number saw Wong Zhuo Qin’s ‘In Search’, as performed by the SCDT main company. Taking inspiration from Tibetan dance, it felt almost tribal as the three dancers twirled about in their long skirts and traditional outfits. Initially, it feels meditative, with the chanting in the background, and seems as if they are in search of peace and serenity. But midway through, the tempo changes, and they bring out mini-drums, and their movements become rapid. They let loose battle cries, while we hear water splashing in the background, as if they’re rushing across natural terrain and facing the elements. At last, they begin to slow, the blue lights shining down, as if night has fallen. Having reached their destination, it is time to rest, as they come to a stop, and relax.

The final number ends the programme on a high, with Lim Moi Kim’s ‘Our Spirits In Flight, as performed by the SCDT Youth Performing Troupe’. All dressed in red, this is a piece that’s all about showcasing the dancers’ grace and femininity. A female voice sings in the background, almost operatic and orchestral as it builds up, the eight dancers weaving across the stage, constantly twirling and spinning as their skirts billow like flowers in bloom. In sync with each other, it feels like a spell has been cast on them as they reach the epic climax, confident as they end on a strong pose. Vibrant, versatile and graceful, Chinese Dance Fiesta 2021 is proof that this is an art form worth pursuing and firmly has a place in the modern world, contributing beauty and joy in every movement.

Singapore Chinese Dance Fiesta’s performance is available to watch here

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