[Review] Mr. Sign

7 Dec 2013
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Photos by Bernie Ng

Being a big fan of Kim Jae Duk’s past works, it was with great trepidation that I went to watch the opening night of his first full-length creation for the company. Having read that he was using the Swan Lake music score as a base for this new work – and reworked it – compelled me to be more intrigued.

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The piece started out with the dancers in black moving in multiple small groups, but in perfect unison, gliding on stage with delicate yet strong movements. They crisscrossed while interacting with each other and slowly started converging – like a flock of birds. It was like watching the great migration; they would sometimes ruffle their feathers, crow at each other or even push their counterparts away to get a good spot. This reinforced my notion of watching a group of black swans travelling together and I enjoyed watching out for the close resemblance of their interactions were to real birds.

The setting had light fixtures set up above the dancers at uneven levels, creating a sort of underground city or a tunnel kind of look. These blinking lights were quite effective in portraying different facets of this underground world. I particularly liked the part where one of the dancers raised his hand to switch off the lights.

The use of the plasma TV was also a surprising element in the piece. It was like watching TV and a dance performance at the same time. Although I found the ‘hands grabbing the head’ part a little bit like the magician’s box.

This time round, I found that I was looking forward to the ‘non-dance’ parts instead of the usual movement-centered actions. And I was served plenty of those parts, which in my opinion represented Kim’s work more accurately. When dancer Yarra started speaking, punctuated by notes of hysteria and gibberish talks, it felt totally unplanned and non-rehearsed, but in a good way. The use of the gas masks also had quite an impact as the dancers breathed to the beat of the music. It created a backdrop both for the eyes and the ears.

Another segment that I found very amusing was the ‘interview’. Again, Kim masterfully intertwined the speeches of the dancers with the beat of the music. It was fun to try to decipher what the dancers were talking about. This part also brought out the personalities of each of them. It was a real joy watching them shed any bits of reservations they had left and truly immerse themselves in their roles. Quite a bit of acting skills was required from them as they conversed, screamed and literally squawked at each other.

This segment also had the nod to the Swan Lake ballet piece. Probably the most famous and recognizable piece of music fromSwan Lake – Danse des petits cygnes, Act 2 - had four dancers sitting at the table moving their feet in unison just like the Pas de Quatre in the ballet. Not restricted by their feet only, the dancers then proceeded to use their hands and arms to finish up the Pas de Quatre portion. The reworked Swan Lake music fit in perfectly here and showed how uniform they were among all the chaos.

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As in any chaotic moments there were moments of silence and peace, which were aptly inserted as the dancers went into a zenmode, adopting the typical yoga meditation poses. Kim went a step further and made the dancers fall onto their backs while retaining their poses. He made use of their voices again to go with the music and their actions. This silent portion brought a much-needed rest from the earlier action-packed segments. The dancers then went into performing different insignificant gestures that we do everyday but do not want anyone to see, like scratching foot and smelling it.

In the last segment, we see the chalkboard being passed around and dancer Wu Mi gave a very detailed explanation (which he must have worked very hard upon) which was a very apt closing point for the piece. Scribbled words, spoken conversations and even the body language were seen as means of communication. As the dancers found peace and their places in this underground world among their flock, they settled down slowly into a comfortable position, blocking out whatever the outside world is trying to force upon them.

This time, Kim showed off his skill at weaving music, beats and speeches seamlessly together into his work. His dark humour was once again present although he claimed in an earlier interview* that he had not purposely added any. Mr. Sign aims to show how important communication is in any society, and it was effectively done. The flock of black swans had finally arrived at their destination after the long migration.

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Mr. Sign was presented by T.H.E Dance Company on 29 and 30 Nov 2013 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio, as part of the CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival 2013.


* We spoke to Kim Jae Duk about his choreographic style and the experience of being a resident choreographer of T.H.E Dance Company. Read the interview here: