Dancerpades Part VI - Herd Up
After the shock of the Solo results, everyone was understandably unsettled as we returned to the National Museum auditorium for the Traditional segment of the Troupe competition.
The judges were announced for the Troupe segment - the same Taiwanese and Chinese judges from the previous Solo segment, Sheng Yu Lan and Wen Kexin respectively … but it was odd that the MC indicated another judge as a returning judge.
Apparently Tama Goh, the only male judge and the official representative from the festival who is reputed to be a fairly well-known local percussionist, was one of the judges for the Solo segment. This is very strange as no one noticed his presence during any of the Solo segments. In fact, not once during my many trips up and down the aisles and to the judges’ area did I see Tama Goh, despite his insistence otherwise. Even 3A, with her beady eyes, somehow managed to miss this tall gentleman’s presence! How he managed to adjudicate astrally is a trick I would like to learn.
The final judge was a familiar name - Mey Jen Tillyer from Hong Kong. A former teacher of a friend, her reputation preceded her as one of the veterans in the industry in Asia. I felt her presence was a mitigating factor to defuse the imbalance and conflict of interest inherent in the panel.
My Troupe is Bigger than Yours
As with the Solo segment, all the troupes came from the organiser’s school, with the exception of one. At first, we were unaware of this fact as the announcements of each troupe cannily avoided mention of provenance, much like the Solo segments. However, by the end of the day, we were cognizant of the fact that only 1 out of 8 troupes was not from the organiser’s school.
First up was Troupe Malik. I wondered if we would see an all-male troupe based on the name, which would be a first in Asia, and was highly surprised to see an all-female troupe of three. 3A and I had a slight chuckle at yet another display of inappropriate self-naming. Performing a drum routine to a Hossam Ramzy piece, this all-Chinese troupe displayed poor timing and synchronisation. Their shimmies were inconsistent or executed in the wrong places. I found their hands, wrists and fingers distracting with excessive flappings, twirlings, jerks and splayed out fingers that looked beyond awkward.
One of the dancers in a peach bedleh had remarkably bad hip control and displayed more “chicken arms” than her schoolmate Nyssa did in the entire competition. The uneven technical ability of all the girls made their “duck” walk discordant and messy. All three dancers could not isolate their shoulder shimmies and emulated their teacher’s tendency to stomp during the saiidi steps much like “rhinos on the run” as one master teacher once remonstrated. With such basic technical foundation, it was a mistake to incorporate the signature Dina butt thrust into the choreography.
There was minimal formation and creativity in the choreography, reducing it to almost line dancing status. I was not impressed and gave this group 5/10 for presentation & framing; 3.5/10 for fluidity of technique; 3.5/10 for expression; 3/10 for originality & creativity; and 3/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, they scored 3.6/10.
The second troupe, imaginatively named Just 3, was another entry from the organiser’s school. Again, a 3-member group, they were clad in “butterfly” coin-studded tops and sequined harem pants. At least they attempted to synchronise their look even if it was not entirely to my taste. Performing to a modern Egyptian pop song (tres traditional, no?), the choreography made me sit up and gasp, as did a couple of other dancers. Another lifted number from a master teacher – Magdy El Leisy but of course with no attribution as usual.
I shook my head sadly as I made a note to mark them down considerably in the originality & creativity section. Again, this group displayed the school’s proclivity towards overly-active wrists. Worse, they could not remember the choreography and there were wrong turns, major hesitation, nervous exchanges of glances and missed movements in this less than stellar performance.
They further massacred the choreography with their minstrel hands waving and Chinese vampire walk which were both cringe-worthy and hilarious. I was not the only one sporting shaking shoulders as the audience was driven to discreet guffaws.
I gave them 4.5/10 for presentation & framing; 2/10 for fluidity of technique; 3/10 for expression; 0/10 for originality & creativity; and 2/10 for rhythm & musicality. They walked away with an overall score of 2.3/10.
By now I was wondering why troupes of such poor standards were being trotted out. Fortunately, the next troupe restored a little of my faith.
Again, the name was another indication of the lack of study or knowledge. This 5-member troupe was called Nerferteri and featured the only non-Chinese dancers from the organiser’s school. This much more polished group was clearly from a higher level within the organiser’s school than the previous two groups.
They chose their song poorly though, dancing to a Hossam Ramzy piece from his Flamenco Arabe CD. Highly inappropriate for a Traditional number and again, showing lack of comprehension. Technically, they all suffered from very poor arm work and weak one-legged shimmies. I particularly abhorred a particular move I shall only call the “Charlie’s Angels” pose. It drove 3A to such hilarity that she inflicted yet another bruise on my arm in her hysteria.
This troupe tried to lend some traditional credibility to their performance with a khaleegi movement which was wildly inappropriate for that piece of music. They, too, performed a hopping movement that was just embarrassing and again, some just could not remember their choreography with the dancer in the blue bedleh consistently messing up.
Despite all these detractions, Nerferteri (sic) was still the strongest thus far and I liked seeing the diversity in the group in terms of races and colour – much closer to what I envision a Singaporean contingent to be. Ironically, I later learnt two of them were not Singaporeans … sigh. I accorded this group 5.25/10 for presentation & framing; 4.5/10 for fluidity of techniques; 4.75/10 for expression; 4.5/10 for originality & creativity; and 4.75/10 for rhythm & musicality. They received an overall result of 4.75/10.
With a name like Fusion de Estellos, the organiser’s school’s confusion is evident. This 4-member troupe performed a rather insipid veil number to Aziza. I particularly disliked how they disposed of their veils and one of the dancers in blue was obviously the weak link, constantly behind or ahead of the rest and forgetting the choreography. All of them struggled with the group timing on the hip circles, which was particularly obvious in their linear formation.
Almost all of them would have sent snake charmers packing their bags with their abysmal snake arms. It was a disappointing performance to a rather boring choreography from a troupe that was perhaps too ambitious to take on the classic, Aziza.
For that poor performance, I gave them 5/10 for presentation & framing; 3.75 /10 for fluidity of techniques; 4/10 for expression; 3.75/10 for originality & creativity; and 4/10 for rhythm & musicality, giving them a total average of 4.1/10.
The esoterically named Rhythm of Life was next, proving that life can be confined to 3 persons. To my horrified amusement, this group performed the same number as Just 3! Which means this choreography was not lifted once but twice! And from the same school! In one event! What are the odds??!!
I was just full of exclamation marks of astonishment as I watched this group compete with their schoolmates on who could brutalise the choreography the most. These three heavy-set ladies clad in blue bedlehs did not display a grace belying their build. One sported an ill-fitting hair-piece I overhead an audience member unkindly state was giving her nightmares.
This group had very bad arms, hands and lines which went sideways and forgot to converge. I emitted a pained groan when they executed a vulgar butt shimmy with their legs akimbo with one thrusting her butt full frontal to the audience.
It was truly one of the most horrific displays of crudity I had seen since Shayna’s full frontal crotch flash. For that I gave them 2/10 for presentation & framing; 2/10 for fluidity of techniques; 3.5/10 for expression (one of them looked so happy to be there I gave them higher marks than they deserved); 0/10 for originality & creativity; and 2/10 for rhythm & musicality. This garnered them a dismal 1.9/10.
The only group which proudly carried the banner of the organiser’s school came next. And with good reason. Bellydance Discovery was made up of the 5 top principle dancers from the school, made up of Maia, Layla, Ayana, Joey and Shayna. Performing to a saidi cane dance in a raks sharqi style, which I did not think entirely appropriate for the Traditional segment, they were clearly the strongest troupe.
The cane number looked vaguely reminiscent to another Magdy number but since I was not sure and they performed this so well, I conceded the penalty in originality & creativity, hoping that my trust in them was justified.
The choreography was pleasant, more fluid than any I have seen from the organiser’s school and the level of technical ability above average. I was pleasantly surprised and truly enjoyed this number for the grace, excellent timing and well-melded stage craft exhibited by these five ladies.
The only misstep surprisingly came from Joey, which reinforced my impression that she was having a bad day. She forgot her choreography at a critical moment of the performance, magnifying the mistake and marring what might have been a flawlessly executed choreography. Again, I felt sorry for her being the weak link in a troupe where she was the teacher.
Still, it was a highly polished and well delivered performance by all and they fully deserved the marks I meted to them. 6.5/10 for presentation & framing; 6/10 for fluidity of techniques; 5.75/10 for expression (again, demerit points for some of the members’ extreme facial contortions and individual poses during a particular segment); 5/10 for originality & creativity; and 5.75/10 for rhythm & musicality. A well-earned 5.8/10 for this strong troupe performance.
The next group was the only group outside of the organiser’s realm. Belinda Tan’s Sundance Troupe was made up of the Jitterbug dancers and their superior modern ballet and jazz dance training and foundation showed. However, as these three dancers were not middle eastern dancers by training, their weak foundation was evident.
Dancing to what 3A thinks was a Hossam piece, the troupe exuded a strong stage presence rivaled only by the previous group. However, nothing disguised the lack of synchronisation during the erratic hip drops, raw movements, lack of lyricism for such a orchestral piece of music, and lack of feel for the music. Typical of Belinda’s choreography, there were many spins, which proved to be slightly challenging for one of the dancers in green. Still, this group showed raw promise and provided a more pleasing performance than some of the other groups.
I gave them a 5.5/10 for presentation & framing; 4.25/10 for fluidity of techniques; 5.25/10 for expression; 5/10 for originality & creativity; and 4.75/10 for rhythm & musicality. Their overall score was 4.95/10.
The last group was ironically called Les Belle du Mirage, sadly another name demonstrating lack of understanding and sophistication. Comprised of 4 girls dressed in tacky hip scarf tops and harem pants, this group was very rough with chicken shimmy arms all over the place and a poor sense of drum accents. Worse, I recognised the choreography as a piece choreographed by the organiser’s former teacher who had her works ripped off in the Solo segments too.
The group was not technically proficient enough to carry off the demandingly hectic pace of this choreography and thus some portions had obviously been adapted to make it easier for them. Still, it was a challenge for them and this showed in their performance.
Their disappointing performance garnered them a 4/10 for presentation & framing; 4/10 for fluidity of techniques; 4/10 for expression; 2/10 for originality & creativity; and 3.75/10 for rhythm & musicality. The overall score of 3.55/10 was the best I could give them.
As with the Solo segments, with the exception of Rani, I felt the Traditional segment of the Troupe competition was supremely disappointing. There were troupes in the line-up who should not even have been allowed to compete as they were such obvious beginners. It was almost as if the organiser churned them out as decoys to set her main, principle troupe as winners – which is unfair and unkind. To expose them to that kind of unfair comparison and ridicule is not something I would advocate. Still, perhaps she had her reasons. Moving along, the run-down of the scores were –
I was keen to see what the Fusion segment would bring as I sensed that it would be the most exciting portion of the entire competition. Sometimes I think I am psychic …