The Dance Enthuisast in Kuala Lumpur: A Graphic Impression of "Urban Distortions" by t.r.a.n.s.i.t.s.c.a.p.e

The Dance Enthuisast in Kuala Lumpur: A Graphic Impression of "Urban Distortions" by t.r.a.n.s.i.t.s.c.a.p.e
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Published on October 26, 2015
Illustration by Sammi Lim.

Decoding Three Cities Hong Kong/Mtwaypa (Kenya)/ and Brussels

Urban Distortions takes an interest in the clash of territories, speeds and movements of different scales through the exploration and the decoding of three cities: Hong Kong, Mtwapa (Kenya) and Brussels.

t.r.a.n.s.i.t.s.c.a.p.e is a Brussels-based dance company which confronts and cross dance with architecture and cinema. t.r.a.n.s.i.t.s.c.a.p.e are trying out a deciphering of the city, a system of urban reading and writing, with humour and certain strangeness brought about as a result of decontextualisation.

The singer/musician Matthieu Ha develops a language without words with which he ends up with his haute-contre voice in a musical style close to minimal and baroque music. Between performance and installation, the two sides of this dance project, with their diverging issues, meet at the perceptive distortions level​.

More about the performance here.

An African Walk in the Land of China, the short film that precedes Urban Distortions, depicts dismal yet beautiful sites that rightfully belong to a Lars Von Trier trilogy. The camera turns its lens on Chinese laborers in matching blue uniforms – a literal representation of blue-collar workers. Burdened by extreme ennui, they try to break the monotony of their work-lives by erupting into spastic movement. Elbows jerk, necks crack, and knees keel. An African woman dressed in gold garb (I shall refer to her as 'the Queen' henceforth), lurks on the sidelines. Gliding through her new environment, this disjointed character is surrounded by suffering, yet gives away no traces of feeling. The most enjoyable facet of the film is its haunting accordion music, which, when paired with slow-mo scenes, is sobering in its somberness.

Illustration by Sammi Lim.

As the film draws to a close, the fourth wall unexpectedly comes tumbling down. The Queen and a blue-uniformed worker fade off the screen only to materialize on stage. A third character also makes a surprise entrance; previously heard but not seen, he is instantly recognizable by his vocals and skills on the accordion. Hats off to Matthieu Ha, whose musical vocabulary encompasses a rich range of sounds from the call of mating ducks to Buddhist chants.

Two mammoth props - transparent, inflatable bubbles - inform a huge part of the work and serve as an exciting extension to the choreography. This challenge of dancing within a confined space opens up new possibilities rather than prohibiting movement. Conversely, the colorful cast confuses and irritates me. Too much is happening simultaneously in the ambitious piece. The performers’ roles might make sense on an intellectual level, but the arrangement is less successful spatially.

Urban Distortions addresses several ideas in relation to architecture and geography:

1) Space as a country or a marked territory.

Despite the chaotic arrangement on stage, it isn’t hard to make out three distinct groups. Their diverse and distinct movements, like cultural practices or mother tongues, set them apart as Hong Kong, Mtwapa (Kenya) and Brussels.

2) Space as an egg, a womb or sanctuary.

Illustration by Sammi Lim.

Dressed in identical pink jumpsuits, the twins conjure up the image of graceful pink flamingos within an extra large egg. When the image of a chicken-man hybrid is projected onscreen, I laugh aloud because my private imaginings are communal.

Similarly channeling the idea of birth, the astronaut in his smaller bubble comes across as a fetal character fighting for survival in a womb.

3) Space as a snare, confinement or quarantine.

Illustration by Sammi Lim.

An eerie red light glows overhead, casting the stage in a sinister light. Rather than a safe haven, the bubble becomes a prison and the dance turns baleful. Repetitive movements such as marching on one spot mirror a monotonous work-out at the gym. These aggravated actions mark a return to the film that was shown at the start of the night, thus bringing the evening full-circle.

A poem is projected onscreen; its words burn into my mind, forcing me to recognize the pointlessness of daily rituals, and spurring me on to seek out new movement.

Lettering by Sammi Lim.

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