Tasdance and APPAN
April 14, 2009
It was entirely
appropriate, then, that APPAN, The Asia-Pacific Performing Arts Network,
founded with the help of UNESCO in 1999, the only artistes' network of
its kind, should celebrate its tenth anniversary by focusing its annual
festival and symposium on the choreographies traditional and new, of islands
in the A-P region. And that Tasmania, the vibrant island off Australia,
at the farthest point of human habitation (well, New Zealand's Torres Strait
are marginally further down) should host it, courtesy APPAN's treasurer,
Annie Greig, the powerhouse who runs the TASDANCE company in Launceston,
in Tasmania event was co-sponsored by the World Dance Alliance, Ten Days
on the Island, a local organization, and Tasmania University. APPAN acquired
significant experience of island cultures in 2005 when, responding to the
initiative by the Regional Office of UNESCO, Bangkok, Paris approved of
a pilot project that enabled APPAN to prove its well-researched premise
that the arts are an invaluable and inexpensive tool for delivering healing
to stress victims. We were asked to put our money where our mouth was in
the context of the December 26, 2004 tsunami disaster in which over two
million people died. APPAN set to work, organising special teams of artistes
in four tsunami-struck Asian countries, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka
and India. Our main tools were music, dance, theatre, puppetry and other
multi-disciplinary art forms. And voila! We were able to prove with that
simple cache of invisible heritage that stress could be reduced substantially
and a positive level of well-being and health delivered to both the audience
and the artiste.
As for the performances, according to curator Elizabeth Walsh:
"The idea was to look for work that drew its inspiration from a traditional cultural base but that was very much rooted in the contemporary practice of now." And this cultural representation was nothing short of the eclectic and the enthralling, engaging straight away with the audience and showing new facets of island cultures. 'King Lear,' the much talked about Taiwanese production was a coup de grace with excellent live musicians wherein the amazing Wu Hsingkuo, enacted multiple roles, from that of the tormented king, his servant, his three daughters as well as characters from the parallel story of the similar tragic fate that befell the Earl of Gloucester. While using the traditions of Peking Opera, its movement patterns, music, costume, design, song and stylization, Wu Hsinkuo reinterpreted the classic for a contemporary audience.
was a biting dance theatre satire from Samoa. Its three dancers went through
a demanding production with wit and humour, if a bit over-played, targeting
the role of missionaries as well as the commodification of island cultures.
'Blessings of the Earth' turned out to be an impressive fusion of Japanese
taiko drumming and movement. Ngai Tahu 32, by Maori contemporary dance
theatre company, Atamira Dance Collective, combined contemporary Maori
dance choreography with video projection, innovative set design and a powerful
sound score. In 'Breakaway,' University of Hawaii dance students presented
a thought-provoking evening of new theatre and dance.
Cradle of the Spirits' choreographed by Sthan Kabar-Louet from New Caledonia
was a blending of French flair and Kanak rhythms. Here the movements stressed
a sensual, physical and earthy body language. Torres Strait choreographer
Gail Mabo created a piece called 'Kelp' that highlighted Australia's indigenous
culture and also helped communicate the big political message of Australia
these days – acknowledgment of the "original owners of the land." It is
another matter that too few of them have survived the white colonizers
to make this anything but an exercise in tokenism! The work itself gave
an insight into the power of the world beneath the waves. For both
works the dancers came out almost in the buff with only basics and body
paint to convey the choreographer's intent.
All in all,
a welcome focus on other spaces and other ways of seeing things. It brought
together Australia, Asia and the Pacific and knocked the 'lizard holding
up the roof' smugness of a lot of us in the mainland dance field.
Shanta Serbjeet Singh is the Chairperson, APPAN International.