The Dead Bird speaks volumes

CREATIVITY leapt from the imagination to the stage in The Dead Bird, with its mix of butoh and contemporary dance.

The performers — Foo Chiwei, Lee Choy Wan, Lee Ren Xin and Boyz Chew — brought supple and controlled athletic energy to a narrative revolving around birds, the essence of humanity, death, and rebirth.

The movements seem to come from within the performer rather than a set masterlist, so you are drawn into individual and collective visceral responses in The Dead Bird.

The tree of life, the birds roosting in it and soon finding their own form.

Playful at times, tortured at others. Finding a mind, like Boyz Chew’s eagle persona, self-awareness, suffocating in ideas, from inside and out. Some mad kineticism from Lee Choy Wan and Lee Ren Xin. A gamut of expressions, especially from Ren Xin, dancing the ringdove, a symbol of purity who meets her alterego and desire in “The Lady and the Red Shoe”.

Sharp movements from Foo Chiwei who danced the crow, a receptable of secrets perhaps, and a segment called “The Old Man and the Dress”.

Yeow Lai Chee , the tree, also contorted in a stretchable red cloth and offered the bluebird of rebirth, tasting her first drop of rainwater.

Finally, a release in a dervish whirling, and with a new dawn, new realisation in this life.

It’s not about a simple flowing tale, but more a series of connected vignettes. Each performer had their own dance style but the bird-like movements were evocative, nonetheless, while the chatterings were piquant.

A black cloth backdrop allowed performers to move in and out of the “shadows”. A fishing net-like tent on one side of the stage completed the set. For one scene, a roll of paper cascaded down when pulled by a performer.

The costumes by Victor Khoo lent gravitas to The Dead Bird, from primitive rags to white togas and then red and white wide skirts for the dervish.

The throbbing EDM soundscape was sometimes a bit loud, but seem to guide the emotions from both audience and stage to meet the sensitive narrative danced.

With The Dead Bird, Yeow, founder of Soubi Sha, gave an interesting dimension to butoh, a post-WWII dance form that many associate with aesthetic markers of chalk-white bodies, bald heads, slow intense movements that can come across as grotesque or plain weird.

I think Yeow, whose mentor was the late butoh master Yukio Waguri,  offered a Malaysian version of this art form, dancing true to the local culture, in a cosmopolitan version.

I mean, a dervish is part and parcel of Sufism, as her inspirational text come from Ibn Arabi’s “The Universal Tree and the Four Birds”, a  Sufism practitioner and poet (1165-1240).

The Dead Bird was imagistic more than a linear narrative.  Without a set of movement, butoh is more than capable of evolving to suit local tastes.

 I could have sat through more of The Dead Bird, a two-night only show at Pentas 2 of the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. The curtain may have fallen on the show, but Dead Birds was more of a journey than its last stop. I get it now when butoh is performed in a park – it is an ongoing conversation.

Pic courtesy of Soubi Sha

Filed under Arts, Dance
Subhadra Devan

A journalist who has been writing about culture, arts and heritage since the 1980s. She is herself gobsmacked to have started the Sunday arts pages for English newspapers in Malaysia, in the new millennium. The passion for these genres rages on.

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