Dancing in the eye of a storm

Bangkok Post, Outlook - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Shakespeare classic takes a freestyle form
The experience of the contemporary dance adaptation of Shakespeare's classic The Tempest held last Wednesday at the Thailand Cultural Center was like shopping at a high-end department store. The ostentatious decorations and high-culture ambience were very enjoyable, but all you could do was just browse before leaving in a state of perplexing yet joyous intoxication.

The deconstruction of The Tempest by world-renowned dance personalities Marcia Haydee and Ismael Ivo, in cooperation with Dance Centre, was truly a memorable theatrical experience _full of energetic dancing and crafted choreography.

But you had to be a fan of contemporary dance and have done a little homework on the classic tale to be able to appreciate the loosely-adapted dance show.

Set in an enchanted isle, somewhere in the stormy Mediterranean sea, the story focused on magician/dethroned king Prospero who commands a spirit of the winds, Ariel, who has been the agent of the tempest, and Caliban, a half-human and half-monster child of a witch.

One day, Prospero brings all the voyagers safely ashore, but scatters them in groups about the island. Ferdinand, the young Prince of Naples, is led by Ariel's singing to Prospero's cave. Miranda, who has seen no man other than her father, falls instantly in love with him. Smell the disaster?

Not quite. The original story actually follows an 'all's-well-that-ends-well' theme. But in this production, the symbolism of each character is so explicitly fixed in one dimension, perhaps to help the audience follow the story.

Prospero represented the authoritative king, Caliban the guardian of the land, Ariel the greedy spirit that quests for power, and Miranda the spiritually-imprisoned personality. Since Caliban epitomised good will, he, not Ariel matched Miranda with Ferdinand.

The twisted ending also appeared very tragic and dim with Prospero regretting his deadly action and the effect it had on his daughter. But the final scene uplifted the spirit of good hope and the power of love that could lead to eternal happiness.

Without this background knowledge, many an audience would have left wondering what was going on during the 80-minute stage presentation, featuring a mix of tempestuous dances from several groups, led by four professional dancers who remained the focus of attention.

For a Thai audience, it was a good opportunity to observe dancers Marcia Haydee and Ismael Ivo. Unfortunately, Marcia Haydee, who co-stared with Nuriyev for years, did not dance. She appeared as an actor, rather than a dancer, but her stage charisma helped grasp the attention of the audience.

It was Ismael Ivo who not only trained the cast but also flaunted his expertise throughout the show. His moves were filled with beauty and energy, aiming to connect with audience through his many gestures, varying from slight to extreme movements.

His performance was equalled by noted Thai classical dancer Pichet Klunchuen, who had just finished his solo in It-tap-paj-ja-ya-ta three days ago. His posture oozed Thai grace and adapted many Western postures. In a scene where he appeared with Ivo, it looked as if two forces were trying to beat each other out at first, but they later ended up in a kind of East-meets-West harmony.

It was a chance for our home-groomed Thai dancers to showcase their talents as the determined ensemble showed off their best with well-coordinated footwork _ despite the occasional mistake on pacing and timing.

In fact, it was a hybrid show _ a mix of world-renowned dance virtuoso and 30 nascent talents from an amateur background, a fusion between classical ballet and freestyle contemporary dance, an East-meets-West choreography and a combination of Western music and African sounds with the occasional vocal arrangements.

The stage spectacle was an excellent arrangement, with the orchestra area in front of the stage transformed into a vast pool representing a stormy sea. The pouring rain from above highlighted trouble in one scene and created sonorous ambience in another.

A huge artistic backdrop allowed performers to move freely on stage. Sometimes the ensemble emerged from behind the stage, before later disappearing behind the blind-like backdrop, giving spacious momentum and keeping the audience guessing.

Shakespeare would have been delighted to discover this free adaptation of his classic, a contemporary show to remember.

Alongkorn Parivudhiphongs