There’s no group in the local dance scene right now that’s as hungry and ambitious as Kuik Swee Boon’s THE Dance Company. (I still can’t figure out if I should just call them THE full stop.)
But even as I admire Swee Boon’s insistence on restaging and revising their repertoire, I’m really not too sure what O Sounds is trying to say, even on the second go.
It’s been heavily revamped and the most prominent change is the title itself.
Releasing the piece from the tangible weight of its previous title of Old Sounds (from its 2008 premiere as a commissioned piece for the National Museum) and replacing it with something more abstract-ish and poetic (er, as in O Captain, My Captain?) can be seen as Swee Boon’s way of opening the piece to more interpretations. Even as he’s tweaked it to have more of a narrative grounding, that is.
I am still trying to digest the piece and am now questioning some of my initial reactions (Okay lah, I’m reconsidering the possibility of a narrative arc somewhere).
But I’ll bring up those initial reactions anyway lah.
First, my amazement at how much the company continues and continues to improved as a cohesive dance unit since that 2008 run, moving with almost clockwork precision (although I’ve seen them perform with more zest).
In particular one of the latter moments when the lights were finally turned up (more on that later) to reveal their technical virtuosity, in particular Zhou Zihao, who is turning out to be, IMHO, the strongest dancer in the pack.
Second, it delivered some nice moments. I still liked the video projection of bodies falling in slow motion as a real-life dancer walked across the screen.
Ditto that part where they were dancing inside the abandoned house in the video before transitioning to one where they’re now (voila!) sitting onstage watching the now-empty house as the video slowly flickered to oblivion.
As you can see I’m picking out my fave parts.
It’s because I’m not quite convinced it holds up as a whole.
It’s a commentary on the loss of a society’s heritage. But because of its emphasis on the idea of “sound” by way of the issue of disappearing dialects, it was doubly hard for me to see that rendered/translated into (or supplemented by) movement and imagery.
Particularly when O Sounds for the most part seemed intent on keeping us at a distance.
Very little of the “old sounds”, which is the piece’s conceptual fulcrum, was identifiable. Darren Ng has done a lot of commendable stuff in stage productions, but I really thought he should have gone the less-is-more route on this one.
Instead, the recorded chanting and singing and talking were sampled and tweaked and buried in effects that you can’t distinguish them as such. For most of the show, they were simply SFX.
The only time things became a bit clearer to me was, ironically, at that point midway through the piece when the dancers actually stopped dancing and, like us, listened to one of the recorded songs.
(Traditional? In what language? Halp! No speakee dialectee!)
And later as well, when one of them literally brought to life O Sounds-as-in-the-title-as-enunciation by singing that (same?) song.
(Traditional? In what language? Halp! No speakee dialectee!).
Although this she does in the dark.
Which is my other issue. Aside from not being able to “hear” anything, I couldn’t see a darn thing as O Sounds was in shadows most of the time.
When you’re in a big a space as Victoria Theatre, the dim, unfocused lights make it even harder to zoom in on movement and silhouette. So I was grappling not only with ill-defined sounds but ill-defined bodies as well.
There is ambition here, that much I can sense. And Swee Boon has articulated, in theory at least, what the piece’s Grand Idea is supposed to be.
It’s just a matter of hearing again what, if there are future plans of restaging it, O Sounds had been wanting to say since 2008 above the din it’s buried underneath.