Sunday, September 25, 2005

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Gerard Mosterd

Angin & Kamu/Jij
@ Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center,
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
September 3rd, 2005, 8:30pm
Featuring Wendel Spier, Thao Nguyen, Loes Ruizeveld, Ederson Rodriguez Xavier, Ming Wei Poon
Choreography by Gerard Mosterd

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A double header, this evening's presentation of Dutch-Indonesian choreographer Gerard Mosterd's identity crisis deals entirely with dualities and the indeterminacy of being in between.

First a solo, then a group work for "five dancers, five mosquito nets and a video beamer," both Angin and Kamu/Jij are dexterous demonstrations of how appropriate contemporary choreography can be to express and present ambiguities, grappling in the body, through space and symbol, the questions of what cannot yet be defined.

Yet this discovery is not in itself innovative. Mosterd's choreography on the whole carries an ambition that perhaps blinds itself to the nuances, thus the true sophistication, of the complex realities it is based upon.

Angin, performed by Singaporean, Amsterdam-based Ming Wei Poon, is described as "an autobiographical research on being blown in between two cultural backgrounds." It was the result of a collaboration between Mosterd and Japanese dancer Shintaro O-Ue, evidenced by the Butoh influence upon the opening scene.

Poon breathes heavily, shivers, and spasms as he falls into the window of light before him on an otherwise dark stage. Stepping back into the dark to regain control, this sequence repeats over and over, forward and across the space. In a somewhat facile representation of two worlds, the stage is divided by light into right and left halves which Poon oscillates between. Concluding his passage back and forth--being "blown in between"--the stage is lit more fully as a whole for another repetitive section of athletic, Graham-based modern sequencing which proves to be Poon's sole modus operandi.

Although satisfying in his technique, Poon lacks the emotional inspiration to express anything deeper about his situation or his character's cultural duality aside from the fact that it exists. The choreography furthermore fails to offer the dancer anything other than abstract movement that travels back and forth through the space, thereby rendering the piece nothing more than a thematic trope. What about being blown between? What about control? What about exclusion? What about isolation? The piece lacks specificity in its direction, and contrarily too little abandon in its movement.

Though with a similar formalism, a more discrete narrative emerges from Kamu/Jij. After a projected video-loop of a sensuous heterosexual partnering, the stage activity begins in indecision. Tilting silently in unison right and left, back and forth, the dancers act as a collective pendulum, counting down, it seems, until they break away and apart. Enigmatic vignettes ensue, cinematically 'cut' by black-outs between, depicting sex and romantic pursuit in a series of somewhat painfully pantomimed pas de deux. A trio of women become more frenetic as they weave through each other, in a complex spatial patterning that is one of the highlights of the piece. The five come together again, marking time. Two men enter as on a conveyor belt, improvising with snake-like body-rolls and spinal twists. The devastatingly entrancing Wendel Spier eats a rose. Finally, in an unclear development, all five dancers end up confined separately in hanging columns of mosquito net and, just as unclearly, fight their way out of the nets and flail, kicking and falling, to their spasmic end. Oh these 'post-modern' fashionistas, with their spiked hair and fuscia-painted eyelids -- they struggle to free themselves only to end in chaos!

Again, there is nothing new about Mosterd's concept. Then again, there is nothing new about an East-West cultural conflict. His book-ending revisit to the video-loop after the collapse of the staged world -- this time, with confusing added images of Javanese text -- further irritates in its adherence to rulebook choreography and its conflation of cultural specificities to iconic mores. West is abstract, (post-)modern, fabricated. East is ancient, tribal, authentic. Get a grip -- Clifford Geertz we are not.

Yet somewhere along this hour-long journey I felt something, and in this lies Mosterd's strengths: his patient use of time and periodicity, and his success in establishing place through consistency over time.

The world of Kamu/Jij is one of suspense, if not suspended animation. The disconnectedness of the scenes, and the disconnectedness of the movement vocabulary itself -- for the most part a staccato, stop-start gestural sequencing -- are well-suited to the theme of duality.

It results in the dancers appearing as programmed automatons -- I hesitate to say, 'dolls' -- which degrade or 'short-circuit' as they are wrenched between two worlds, two moralities, by indecision or conflict; they appear as to suffer an electromagnetic malfunction between like poles. Not only is the rapid point-to-point sequencing fascinating to watch, but as its awkwardness develops over time from otherworldly to lingua franca, we too sense that we have been trapped within the theatre in the confines of this limbo of in between. We feel a similar, and familiar wrenching -- that of confusion and unknowing.

Thus Kamu/Jij feels very much a continuation of the concept behind Angin, whereby the "subject of double moral" it seeks to deal with through the lens of public intimacy plays out rather as an inevitability of cross-cultural dualism.

Perhaps Mosterd would benefit from a further developed sound score to carry, rather than mire, the dancers through to a true climax, or find a way to intersperse the Javanese text -- in sound or in image -- throughout the piece so as to make that element relevant and meaningful. With movers so talented, and a structure so promising, the choreography needs only to battle through its own indecision in order to arrive as raw, as elegant, as truly contradictory as it wants to be.

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