Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hidden Truths In the Fog

It's strange how little gems of realisation and truths appear in the fogs of delirium and illness. As you gasp for breath and labour and cling to moments of clarity and pain-free validation of your existence, little nuggets of epiphany peer through the dense clouds of self-delusion.

In those moments, the words of a close confidante, trusted and respected, ring a clarion call through your consciousness. The kindly tyranny of actions, the sibilant insertions of true sentiments. Amids the words denoting friendship, care, concern and sympathy bleat the occasion slam of disdain. Words like loser or nobody emit as if from a distance, cast from the nets of third-partyism when it froths forth from a dark, hurtful place within their own consciousness.

It raises the awareness that friendship could be couched in a bitter refrain of complete disdain. The obvious desire to inflict a knife wound of hurt meted out with the regularity of imbalanced hormones or erratic emotions could be likened to the murder of innocence by insouciant drunkards who plead for clemency.

As the ruby ripened beads of life's blood bleed a sea of hurt across the bed of friendship, is it foolishness to disregard and constantly forgive as the slideshow of actions being louder than words push forward their case? Can the soul actually withstand the belittling and sloughing of hate-filled words before withering into dust, even beyond the caresses of physical sustenance? Are stick and stones truly less painful than than a blanket of thorny words carelessly thrown in fits of self-vindication or petty malice? Is it foolish to feel emotional shards of words as starkly as a gunshot through the heart?

As the lack of oxygen causes a numb euphoria, the only grasp of reality is the constant litany of those words that spark of hatred yet are cloaked in friendship.

Perhaps the saddest irony of life is a dim memory of warmth as the cold, metallic tang of strange fruit encircled by the siren song of being a nobody seeps the life out of every breath.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Dancerpades Interlude - Hacking the Hack

The second and final day of the dance competition was on a Sunday. The highly intelligent organisers had decreed that tickets to that day’s events would only be available from 9.30am and seats were limited to 100.

Rat Off a Sinking Ship
Since the event started at 10.30am, 3A was convinced that there would be a huge queue of people lined up for the tickets as early as 8.30am so she dutifully made her way there to be ahead of everyone else. Typically, she was the first and only one there for a while. Which enabled her to witness a major dressing down of the organiser by the main organiser in full view and hearing of many of the event staff.

Without going into the details of the humiliating airing of dirty linen, it transpired that the main organiser was blaming the organiser for almost all the ills and disasters of the dance competition and was demanding that she account for a number of things. Some of these included the submission of the scoredcards for the competition, her explanation of how the Taiwanese were managed, her explanation of how the Turkish judge was managed and a whole host of “crimes”.

It was an embarrassing and highly inappropriate scene. While there were many things I found issue with in the organiser’s management of this entire event, it is unfair for the main organiser to abdicate all responsibility for the disaster and cast all blame on the organiser. As the main organiser and therefore leader of this fiasco, she had the responsibility to be in control of the entire event and to question and verify everything before allowing them to be implemented. What kind of leader contracts everything out, makes desultory checks and then points the finger at the first sign of trouble?

I felt that she was only too willing to send the organiser up the creek to save her own skin and that did not sit well with me. In later conversations, I listened to her blame everything on the organiser and smear her reputation, and secretly thought the saying that there is no honour among thieves as being surprisingly apt, even if not totally accurate in this case. Say what you like … that I am prejudiced against the organiser … that I am a right cow … but my sense of justice and fairness made me furious on behalf of the organiser, who I count as a member of the community no matter what she has done.

It infuriated me enough to defend her by reminding the main organiser that she should have been monitored or checked if things were mismanaged to the extent that the main organiser claimed. And that as a leader, she (the main organiser) is responsible for all the failures of her minions, and not just the victories.

Casting all blame on her in the bid to keep her own nose out of the shite is cowardly and unfair.

Of course, all this drama was unknown to me as I arrived at the National Museum to face another exciting day of dance competition. I was very eager as it would finally be my chance to see how the Singapore dancers fared against the Chinese and Taiwanese.

Although one of my close dancer friends is Taiwanese, she is not a good gauge as I think she is one of those creatures made to dance from birth and even the Mother Ship would have to bow down to her superior dance skills. I had never met another Taiwanese dancer of our dance form and the only mainland Chinese dancer I had ever met was an absolute knock-out at one of the master workshops, who was another specimen of genetically blessed dance talents.

Hacking the Hack
I made the rounds with the judges again and settled down to record the event in my handy dandy notebook. While I was sitting there, the organisers beckoned me down from my perch and began to question me on my presence at the event. I was beginning to get irate as they asked me to step outside the room to speak to the PR hack on the phone.

Let me just put this in perspective. When the festival opened, I called to ask for my media kit and pass to the event – I presumed it had been lost in the mail. It would be highly undesirable to have a press member who is actually conversant of the industry and art form covering the event! The PR hack actually told me to just “turn up” at the opening ceremony and that I would get my kit and pass then. When I asked for one-on-one interviews with the judges and some of the contestants, he simply told me to “turn up” during the competition and try to speak to them myself, although he did make some obligatory noises that he “will see what they can do”.

At the opening ceremony, he barely spared me two minutes as he told me he would inform me of the arrangements and that the International Contest result would be announced on the Sunday afternoon. He told me I should just “come and see what and who I could cover” then.

Unknown to him, I have been in the business for almost two decades and thus, such cavalier and obstructive behaviour typically does not work for me. Being a DIY type of girl, it would usually motivate me to begin an all-out assault on me own. And I can be pretty motivated.

I did not hear from this PR hack again till this moment, on a bright Sunday morning, before the contest started but obviously way too early for the PR hack to even be at the scene. His concern and wariness that I had been lurking for the past day covering the event was palpable. And I knew the reason why.

He informed me that there was a press conference at 3pm that afternoon, which he claimed he informed me of (I must find out more about this astral communication thing) and tried to convince me that I would be better off only being there at that time. I politely disabused him of that by stating I intended to be there for every moment of the competition and also at the press conference. I again requested for an interview with the judges and the contestants, especially the winning ones, and he told me I would be able to speak with them at the press conference. I asked if there would be a proper Q&A and one-on-ones but all he could tell me was that there was a press conference.

He demurred when I asked to speak with some of the foreign contestants and judges and even questioned why that would be important. Again, I rolled my eyes and gently reminded him that Singapore is not the only country in an international competition.

I will not go into undue details but I was blocked, stonewalled, given the old run around and basically shafted. The so-called press conference was a debacle which was organised as a vehicle for the local papers and television channel to shoot the more “outstanding” contestants as they performed. Some other journalists and I stood there wondering when the press conference would begin as hordes of audience members stormed the stage and began taking pictures and congratulating the winners. In fact, a couple of us left in disgust after spending 30 minutes just waiting for them to get their act together and after they shouted at us (the journalists, not the audience members) to get off the stage!.

Fortunately, I had already made plans, hunted down, interviewed and set up appointments with a number of contestants and judges on my own prior to the PR hack’s interference. The only interview he arranged for me was with Tanyeli, the judge from Turkey and even then he stood right next to us and tried to control the interview. I will tell you why this is laughable later.

He also obstructed me from interviewing the Taiwanese by promising to set up an interview and keeping me in a corner for ages while he made sure that they were finally out of the way, before informing me regrettably that they had left the building. He thought I did not notice this “media management”. In fact, the main organiser then pulled me aside and begged me to help them by not speaking to the Taiwanese whom she claimed “would not have anything good to say” as the organiser had treated them very poorly and managed everything badly. She also asked me to “help them” by saying only nice things and began a litany of complaints about the organiser. She claimed that the organiser had deceived her and kept her in the dark about everything despite many demands for updates and accountability.

So what do you think? Do you think this blatantly transparent attempt at manipulating me worked? By the way, I did write an extremely measured piece in my official capacity. But this is my blog and I can rant if I want to as I cannot in my other life. So bite it.

I will not belabour the point but I dislike being “media managed” by people who should have read the manual I wrote on the subject. Let’s just move on to the contest proper …

Up the Cactus Path

Taking a short break from the reporting on the recent dance competition, I pause to consider the concept of leadership.

Honestly, I do not know much about it, having never sought or desired it. However, it has been thrust upon me many times and my innate laziness and pathological avoidance of responsibility has made the mantle of leadership an uncomfortable and suffocating yoke which I fidget and worry against.

It is amazingly easy to pinpoint the flaws in leadership, to disdain it, to question it, to mutiny against it and to ridicule it. Many times I see leaders seek the opinions and interactivity among those they lead, which sometimes leads to total anarchy as the division between consultation and unconstructive interference becomes so blurred that everyone fumbles around in a haze of confusion.

I like following orders. I know most find this unbelievable but I do. I like to have very concise, detailed and logically structured instructions given to me so that I can abdicate all responsibility, blindly execute these to perfection (or as close to perfection as I can), and then totally point the finger in case someone finds the results wanting.

That is not to say I will not question if I do not understand them or find them puzzling. Perhaps then you can say I am a half blind orders follower. I will follow orders blindly as long as I find them logical. Illogical orders which defy rational thinking and waste time inevitably get a litany of questions from me.

Why? How come? What? When? Where? Who? What if? Why me?

And even after I receive the instructions, I like to know the exact specifications of the order.

To what degree? Level of expectations and degrees of importance or priority? Purpose? End result? Cause and effect? Alternatives? Contingency? Worst case scenario? Why me?

Often it drives some people less inquisitive than I to distraction and they mistake it for rebellion or naysaying. On the contrary, I am simply paving the way to how much and if I will disappoint them.

I also like to take a backseat and let others dictate while I watch and … well, watch. Only when I think it is beyond ridiculous and wasting too much of my time, better spent eating, sleeping, washing my hair, filing my nails etc, would I then make a suggestion or observation. Perhaps it is the way I make them, which is usually either coached in humour or as laconically as possible (because despite what people think I do worry about upsetting people), as I get ignored quite a lot.

Not to blow my own trumpet but I usually make pretty damn crash-shot suggestions or observations. Because I would have ruminated on them a fair bit before I offer them up on the table as I dread having to poke fun and laugh at my own idiocy … and I am a right sarky bitch who will drive myself to humiliated tears with my biting humour.

It amuses and annoys me when I am ignored and I watch these individuals talk themselves into a circle. Or try to impose their will on everyone and under the guise of concern and constructivism take unsubtle potshots at those they are supposedly helping or working with. Watching them try to make someone else feel small or guilty is not something I enjoy. Just like I do not like watching public stonings. I guess I am just funny that way.

The worse thing is that these people are usually so transparent yet believe that they are so intellectually superior that no one can see through their paper-thin motives and motivations. They would “discuss” at length and finally come to the same conclusion as I put up 45 minutes ago. See? I told you I am not a good leader! No one listens to me. But those who do and realise that 45 minutes later their leader finally cottoned on to what I had verbalised eons ago, usually look at me with a rather startled expression in their eyes. Which is usually followed by a narrow-eyed and assessing look as they actually look past the long hair, tits, goofy expression and total arse-luckness (is that even a word because it should as it best describes me!).

And these are women I am talking about.

Perhaps it is because I do not raise my voice or push myself forward aggressively. Half the time I can’t be arsed and I just think the people going around in circles like headless chicken are daft who just make me wonder at the deep unfathomability of God's plan. The other half of the time I am doing my space cadet act where my brain has taken a vacation somewhere else as I wait for them to come to the same conclusion I did ... 45 minutes later.

However, occasionally when I have had enough of my time wasted or think we have reached a crunch point where further empty vesseling is inexcusable, I will make my point. That’s when the words go like this …

No. No. No. No. No. And no again.

Usually the empty vessels who shout and pontificate the loudest will be the most incensed by my sudden observations and immediately go on the attack. Terribly startled, they will immediately sputter and some may even begin to insult me in an attempt to belittle me. Which is really easy since I am usually taller than most of them. So once they think they have cut me down to size, I am usually the same height as them. Which means I can now start speaking to them as equals. See? It all works out.

This treatment is a true lack of respect for me on their part which I can understand since they obviously think they are superior and that I am a right loser. Using words like “patience”, “consideration”, “intelligence” and what not, they exhibit little of these and show such total disdain for my opinions that I am tempted to shut my mind and “intelligence” off permanently to them, take a mental holiday and alphabetise (again) my spice bottles in my head.

Ego is a terrible thing. I am not exempt from it but I definitely try to see beyond it. I am not opposed to apologising even when I do not have to, to preserve the peace. I just wish others would treat me with the same courtesy.

One last time, why me?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Dancerpades VIII - Local Gone Loco

Finally the day’s segments were all over and it was just a matter of waiting for the results. It had been a long day and while we were waiting, the other dancers were already making calls to find out the results and to hear our reports.

I did not bother to consult my scorecards as it was obvious to me that Bellydance Discovery had won the title with the Sundance Troupe a close second. Third place was rather moot but I thought Nerferteri were the most likely.

It was obvious that there was a great divide between the top two troupes and the rest. To those not familiar with the community, they might have assumed that the standard in Singapore is very low with a small handful of competent dancers.

The thought was too painful to contemplate so I reviewed the total scores perfunctorily.

Again, the results were a surprise. This time around, apparently the organiser was not allowed into the small room to tabulate the scorecards so her expression when the winner was announced was telling. The discovery that the top prize had been denied them was a palpable shock apparent in every bemused pore of her face.

The winners were –

1st – Sundance Troupe
2nd – Bellydance Discovery
3rd – Les Belles du Mirage

Again, I was baffled by the decision. Sure, there was a hard fight between Bellydance Discovery and Sundance but I thought the former’s superior middle eastern dance skills would have trumped the superior lyrical jazz dance foundation of the latter. Obviously the judges thought otherwise.

But the biggest shock was the inclusion of Les Belles du Mirage in third place. Not a single person I spoke to even thought they should have placed anywhere near the top three. I was puzzled as to why Nerferteri had not placed and 3A had a theory that it may have been because they were not “Chinese” enough since the judges were all Chinese. I really do not know but again, I thought that the decision was questionable.

Speaking to one of the judges, Mey Jen, later, I asked about the decision between Bellydance Discovery and Sundance Troupe. She very diplomatically replied that some judges might have found the American Tribal Fusion vibe of the African-inspired number too discordant with their vision of middle eastern dance. Before watching the International segment the next day, I would have been puzzled by her comment. However, the personality and dance style preference of the judges, i.e. the Chinese and the Taiwanese judges, became apparent and helped a little to explain how this could have happened.

By now it was late, we were just disillusioned and tired and we still had to go meet some of the other dancers to fill them in on the day’s events and results. I was hoping that the next day would be more exciting and uplifting.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Dancerpades Part VII - Groundhog Day?

I was going to post this later because it is that kind of week which is so chaotic on so many fronts I was going to take my time doing this. But the comments and actions of some really mature individuals prompted me to lay fingers to keyboard so here you have it …

By the time the Fusion section of the Troupe competition rolled up, everyone was a little jaded and a lot disappointed. Frankly, to have only two truly worthy groups was below expectations.

Since Fusion is always a controversial bug bear and most of the contestants in the Solo category had massacred it, I was truly fearful. Yet something told me that a gem or two would be found in this segment. For once, I am so glad my intuition did not play me false.

I Hear The Sounds of Afrika
The first troupe back for the Fusion segment was the misnamed Troupe Malik. Dancing to the really hackneyed Simarik or Kiss Kiss by Tarkan, this threesome interpreted the song as mostly chest shimmies. In fact, it was all shimmies throughout the song. Worse, these shimmies had limited or no accents, pauses or variations, making for a dull choreography with little imagination. There was a strange pelvic movement in this piece, which made 3A and I furrow our brows and look at each other in askance, and of course, the ϋber tacky kissing motions that usually accompany this song … sigh.

Giving them 5/10 for presentation & framing; 3.5 for fluidity of techniques; 4/10 for expression (they looked happier here than in their Traditional piece); 2.5/10 for originality & creativity (you will know why shortly); and 2.75/10 for rhythm and musicality were the best I could give them. Overall, Troupe Malik received a score of 2.85/10.

Shocker! The next troupe was Just 3 who performed a highly original piece – the same Kiss Kiss by Tarkan piece as the group which just vacated the stage!

What on earth possessed them or their teacher??? Surely common sense would tell you this was a disaster? How can you put two teams into the competition dancing to the same song and same choreo? Obviously when she devised the judging criteria to include originality & creativity, it was a display of a sense of humour.

So it was not just one time the pain but two times the suffering as we had to endure a bad déjà vu of a poor choreo and even worse performance. Just 3 made their schoolmates look good with an even poorer execution and technical ability. Now we know why snakes have no arms … they bit them off in mortification after witnessing Just 3’s.

I was glad when it was over and tempted to give them a point for releasing me from the torment. Instead, I gave them 4.5/10 for presentation & framing; 2/10 for fluidity of technique; 2.75/10 for expression (one of them really looked like she would rather be home washing her hair); 0/10 for originality & creativity; and 1.75/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, they scored 2.2/10.

This was beginning to be painful for us and I groaned when I heard the next song - Alabina’s Salma y Salamah, a song I am very familiar with since the first song I performed to in Singapore was Dalida’s version. I braced myself but fortunately, Nerferteri’s stronger technical ability made this performance a welcome change from the previous two troupe’s disappointing turns.

These five ladies performed better in this segment than their Traditional performance and the choreography featured a little more attention to formation. Their timing was much better but their fusing of samba movements was a little weak, making this choreography rather wishy washy. All 5 seemed to have problems with their stomach pops and the timing was suspect.

I gave them 5.5/10 for presentation & framing; 4.75/10 fluidity of techniques; 5/10 for expression; 4.75/10 for originality & creativity; and 5/10 for rhythm & musicality, giving them a well-deserved total average of 5/10.

The next group, Fusion de Estellos, came waltzing in in modern looking costumes that looked more disco than middle eastern. Silver chain mesh halter tops combined with vividly coloured skirts and long tassels gave the impression they would break out into a MTV number so it was a relief to hear the dulcet tones of Pascale Maashalani belt out Nouri Sham.

There were a few cute moments in this troupe’s performance as they obviously made more attention to formation than in their Traditional number. However, they unwisely incorporated some movements which are more suited for partner dancing than troupe numbers. I know, I know … it’s called creativity but it just looked inappropriate for a middle eastern dance number, even if it is Fusion.

These four ladies displayed a rather unfortunate propensity towards the infamous “chicken neck pecks” and they kept performing the Barry Manilow forearms rolls which cracked 3A and I up something severe. Timing again was an issue which manifested when they performed a back heel kick at different counts.

For their attempt, I gave them 4/10 for presentation & framing; 4/10 for fluidity of techniques; 4.75/10 for expression; 4. 5/10 for originality & creativity (at least they tried even if it was a little inappropriate in parts); and 4.25 for rhythm & musicality. Their performance garnered them 4.3/10.

I hate to be negative but the next troupe should have paid better attention to their costuming. Rhythm of Life was made up of three rather heavy set ladies who unwisely chose bra-tops and harem pants which made them look manly and a little rough. More flattering costume choices might have improved their chances.

Dancing to a remixed version of one of Khaled’s song, which I believe could have been Wahrane Wahrane, these three ladies chose a vaguely hip hop fusion interpretation. I think it was an unfortunate choice as they just did not have the flair or training for hip hop and combined with their weak middle eastern dance techniques, made this a very poor performance indeed. Their hands were literally all over the place and they displayed weak shimmies. The dancer in red had problems with her undulations, the shortest dancer in the middle could not get the timing right and the tallest dancer was very rough and had almost no control over her movements.

They were obviously very raw beginners and again I questioned the wisdom of sending out beginners into an international competition. I felt sorry for Rhythm of Life but could not give them more marks than 2/10 for presentation & framing; 2/10 for fluidity of techniques; 3.5/10 for expression; 2.5/10 for originality & creativity; and 2/10 for rhythm & musicality. They scored an overall of 2.4/10.

And now to the contest proper. The first gander of the Bellydance Discovery troupe promised exciting things. Clad in tiger prints and black lycra, with matching hair bands, they heralded a professional and polished performance. And boy, did these five ladies deliver!

Bravo, ladies! Dancing to what I suspect is Afrika from Sayed Balaha’s Around the World CD, the group fused African dance into a well-thought out choreography. I thoroughly enjoyed the spirited performance which was aggressive, high energy, dynamic and featured a well-rehearsed team that produced a well-timed, well-executed and well-choreographed piece.

There were formations, there was expression, there was sound rhythm interpretation and while some suspected that the choreography was not an original piece from the organiser as they doubted her ability to produce a piece of this calibre and based on her history, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Ayana displayed some acrobatic and gymnastic talents while everyone of them showed they could be lyrical as well as energetic. The group cohesiveness was palpable and I commend them on a spectacular performance. Without even consulting my scorecards, I gave them the winning prize for best troupe.

Still, if you must be pedantic, here were their scores – 7/10 for presentation & framing; 7/10 for fluidity of techniques; 7.5/10 for expression; 7/10 for originality & creativity; and 7/10 for rhythm & musicality. A very impressive performance which deserved an impressive 7.1/10.

It was apparent that is was now a battle between the Bellydance Discovery group and the Sundance Troupe. Like their namesake, this troupe came to the stage guns blazing. While I was not as impressed by Sundance Troupe’s colourful, beaded butterfly camisoles, black jazz pants and hips scarves combination, their modern pop fusion piece made this costume selection a passable choice.

Relying on their lyrical jazz background, this group demonstrated their superior dance foundation with a strong performance that highlighted their excellent stage presence, good body control and fluid style. However, again, their middle eastern dance inexperience showed and they were a little noticeably raw in their basic movements.

I found their performance very Salimpour-ish with some lovely floorwork, which made sense since their coach, Belinda, is a die hard fan of this renowned dancer and teacher. Still, the Sundance Troupe did have some timing issues and nerves must have gotten to the dancers as they made some mistakes which marred the performance. The dancer in blue forgot her choreography and showed hesitation. The dancer in orange lost her concentration and almost keeled over while doing a standing leg lift.

Still, it was a very strong performance and we agreed that it would be a hard fight between the two groups. 3A, understandably, was more inclined towards the Sundance kids but I stood by my selection of the Bellydance Discovery Troupe as I thought their performance and choreography were tighter.

The Sundance Troupe scored 5.75/10 for presentation & framing; 6.25/10 for fluidity of techniques; 6.5/10 for expression; 7/10 for originality & creativity; and 7/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, they received 6.5/10.

Coming after two such stellar performances is hard, but worse when you are so out of their league. The next group Les Belle du Mirage lived up to their name with a wishy washy performance. Slithering onto the stage like characters from a Harry Potter movie, these clueless ladies were entirely shrouded in their colourful veils. Did they not know that this is actually rather insulting? I was once at a performance when some dancers shrouded themselves thus and when they entered and started writhing around, the entire middle eastern contingent I was seated with got up and left in a huff. Sigh. I stayed ... I’d paid for it after all ….

Anyway, this group chose the overplayed and hackneyed Desert Rose by Sting. I did like the synchronicity of their costumes and wished that they had not ruined it with their shrouded horror introduction as that impacted their presentation & framing scores. The performance was a little vapid with uneven and poor undulations, mediocre technical ability, and an awkward exit, resulting in a desultory and lukewarm response from the audience.

Overall, their performance was unremarkable other than the J K Rowling homage so I gave them 4.75/10 for presentation & framing; 4/10 for fluidity of techniques; 4.5/10 for expression; 4.25/10 for originality & creativity; and 4/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, they garnered 4.3/10.

The Troupe Fusion segment was very uneven. You had the really good and the really bad. It was as if there were two categories within this segment – the professional and the dismal. Again, it brought into question why there was no proper segregation of standards, which might have given the weaker dancers a better fighting chance.

Looking at the scorecards, we made a prediction of the winners and there was much discussion over the authenticity and originality of the Bellydance Discovery’s group’s choreography. There was the camp that thought the choreography was a little boring with too many repetitions of combinations. There was the camp that declared that the organiser/teacher was not capable of producing something of that lyricism and caliber. Whatever it was, I thought they were excellent and the scorecards supported this.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

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.

Judge Cred
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 …

Friday, June 16, 2006

Dancerpades Part Illusion - Curry Confidential

The reverberations of the Solo segment results continue to sluice through the industry like virulent, inky, toxic waste, emitting negative side effects that may take a while to realise but when they do, might damage its ecosystem permanently,

Something shocking apparently happened at the end of the results announcement, of which I was completely unaware of till a week after the event – which is why this update took so long.

Please note that all the statements posted here are, as yet, unproven and the person who divulged the information may go back on her statement when the proverbial shit hits the fan. But it is truly so reprehensible, if it is indeed true, that I could not sit on it anymore. It is too incendiary for me to cast any judgements but I sure have a lot of questions …

A week or so after the entire competition, I finally called Nur Shiblie to offer my condolences and to respond to her invitation to visit her home. The instant she heard my confession that I had pegged Rani as the winner, it released a diatribe from the irate dance teacher.

Apparently, immediately after the results were announced, Nur Shiblie approached the judges to question them on the decision. She rightfully insisted on knowing how they could have overlooked Rani. And here is where it gets controversial.

When Nur Shiblie demanded an answer from the organiser, the latter tried to appease her by saying that “the judges don’t know”. What this could mean leads to speculation. Does this mean that the organiser is inferring that the judges are wrong and ignorant? If so, why were they appointed in the first place? Does it mean that the judges do not know what the results are? Is this the desperate answer to ward off an irate teacher? What does this all mean??? Speculations are riff but answers are scarce.

Nur Shiblie swore (no, I did not take down a written affidavit because I have not had time to meet with her yet. I only managed to obtain her vehement affirmation that this was the truth via the telephone so she may come back and recant, in which case I will remove this entire post and have to make a statement of apology – but till then just read) that she approached the Chinese judge, which would make that Wen Kexin, who revealed that the judges gave the “blue girl”, referring to Rani, the highest marks but “what can they do?”

No one saw my face when I heard this revelation over the phone. Good thing too because I must have looked moronic with my jaw on the ground and my eyebrows up to the ceiling. I was shocked and appalled. If this is the truth, it goes way beyond the “kelong” that we suspected.

Admittedly, at first we harboured unkind and unjust speculations that the Chinese and Taiwanese judges may have chosen “winners” of a weaker calibre in order to give their own students a better fighting chance at the International contest the next day. Yes, yes, that was very small and devious of us to even think that but we were desperate for answers as to how the judges could have been so blind! Look, when unwarranted decisions are meted with no apparently fathomable explanations, it in turns invites unwarranted and unfathomable speculations!

Nur Shiblie also informed me of the two-person tabulation system – only two persons were allowed into a small room without the witness of the judges or any other officials to tabulate the scores. And that one of them had been the organiser and teacher of 11 of the contestants.

All these do not add up to a pretty picture. While we all harboured ambiguous feelings towards the organiser for her affronts and double-talk, we would never have ever suspected her of such blatant fraud. I was truly flabbergasted.

When Nur Shiblie heard the Chinese judge’s comment, she lost it. She began to harangue the organiser and anyone who looked twice at her to protest the decision and alleged fraud. When I expressed bewilderment as to how I could have missed this, she told me that this happened during the break between the Solo and Troupe segments when everyone had been herded out of the room. I was amazed and disappointed that I had missed the big hooha.

Shiblie apparently searched the room for me or 3A or anyone who could have supported her or, at least, be a witness. But according to her, she did not see any of the established dancers among the stragglers. She demanded to speak with A, the main organiser, who apparently was not present that day. In embarrassment, the organiser/teacher began to leave the room to avoid Nur Shiblie, who was now entreating innocent audience members still remaining in the room, to witness this alleged injustice.

No one came to her aid, so Nur Shiblie began to trail the organiser out to the lobby where she began to call out to the latter that she “was cheating”, that “this is unfair”, "this is cheating" and “how can you cheat like this”. Shiblie told me that passerbys were giving her amused and pitying looks in turns while the organiser climbed the escalator with a beetroot red face but did not turn to acknowledge Nur Shiblie’s shouts.

This complete shut-out spurred Nur Shiblie to threaten to go to the police, a threat she was going to follow through until her friends advised her against it. Apparently, the reason is that it will not benefit her and would create a scene. Frankly, we think she should have if a fraud had indeed been committed.

Since she was not privy to most of the dancers’ contacts, Nur Shiblie had no one in the industry to air her grievances to, so she had to fume and sit on her rage a full week or so before I made my innocent call to her.

During our conversation, she made a few observations, some which I thought valid, others humorous but most of which I found controversial. I warned Nur Shiblie I would quote her in a public domain and that the possible repercussions may be more trouble than she anticipated. But she was adamant that someone should speak out about this, and stood by her statements even after my obligated advisements. So here goes …

Mustafa Chin
When she was informed that the judges were the Chinese and Taiwanese teachers for the overseas dancers competing the next day, she asked why a middle eastern judge had not been appointed. In Nur Shiblie’s words, it is almost like this …

“How can a Chinese medicine man sell Indian curry?”

Honestly, that cracked me up so hard I had tears in my eyes. It also made me suddenly crave prata.

January’s Child
Remember how many of us were miffed we only received an email blast about the competition application in May? And how we found out, from the organiser’s mouth, that she had informed some selected teachers and dancers of this earlier in March/April but not all? Apparently, according to Nur Shiblie, another dancer/teacher who participated in the troupe segment inadvertently revealed that the organiser had informed her of the competition in January. Sigh.

Shiblie Get Your Gun
And the classic quote is the next, which threw me into such hysterical convulsions I almost twisted my back. I liked it so much I made Nur Shiblie repeat the statement three times. Three times the convulsions! Fun …

“If there was a gun that can shoot people and they don’t die, she [the organiser] will be the first one I shoot!”

Classic! Pure gold! What a soundbyte!

While everything that is written in this post is a minefield that can, and probably will, blow up in my face, just the two quotes from Nur Shiblie demanded an airing.

All these are, of course, hearsay and pending a written affidavit, cannot be proven or even verified. But something interesting happened the next day. I mean the day after the Solo segment, not day after the the phone conversation.

3A had gone to the National Museum very early in the morning to obtain the International segment tickets for us. No one other than the organisers were there but 3A saw an altercation between A, main organiser, and the alleged cheater, the organiser/teacher in full view of all the festival employees. Perhaps Nur Shiblie’s scene had reached the attention of A as A was incredibly incensed with the organiser/teacher and was giving her a real bollocking.

In the midst of this, A was apparently demanding that the organiser/teacher account for a number of things, one of which was to produce the scorecards. Since 3A was too well-mannered to lurk to witness the organiser’s humiliation, she did not stick around to find out the outcome of this heated dressing down.

So we may never know if the horror story of scores manipulation, alleged fraud, bias and other nefarious activities are true, will we? It was clear that Nur Shiblie was beside herself. Did this rage colour her judgement? Could her ire misrepresent a set of perhaps totally innocent circumstances? Are there some logical and totally plausible explanations behind all this supposed infringements?

I wouldn’t know as every time I requested the organisers’ time to speak with them about the competition, they pleaded lack of time, exhaustion, made some perfunctory lip service or simply avoided me. When I asked to interview the judges, they actually asked me not to as the Taiwanese judges may not be supportive (the reasons why would become clear later) and were generally rather unhelpful. I basically had to hunt down the judges individually to seek an interview. Unfortunately, because of my uncertain Chinese, I did not get the opportunity to interview the Chinese and Taiwanese judges or contestants. A drawback the organisers realised and were slightly amused by but never offered a solution even when I offered to find an interpreter pronto. In fact, at one point, one of them even asked me why I would want to! I don't know ... maybe because this is supposedly an International contest???

So, although I would like to present their side of the story, the complete lack of disclosure and assistance has made this challenging.

Read quick as this may be shut down when the legal beagles and irate and supposed maligned individuals call a jihad on me.

Good night from your proverbially long-necked and feckless dancer/reporter, Machiam Malu for if the stories are indeed true, it is indeed our collective shame.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dancerpades Part V - Where Have All The Winners Gone?

It was a curiously sanguine crowd that returned to the auditorium. Perhaps it was the weather, which was hotter than a witch’s t… er, headlights, but everyone was strangely subdued and the was a lack of the excited buzz and whispers one might expect at the results announcement of a national competition.

The unfashionably hot weather had given me a bit of a headache. Perhaps it was in sympathy to 3A Gurl’s migraine which started up at the end of the last set. I decided to take my hair down to relieve the tension and as I was chatting quietly with 3A and some other dancers, I caught a glimpse of a black-clad figure striding purposefully in my direction. Please note I was in the same seat the entire day.

Power Deranger!
It was the PowderPuff Girl. And bless her delusional little heart, she was sporting a smugly sanctimonious and militant expression again as she neared me. Seriously, the lights were not that dim and I had not gone for a costume change or applied more make-up … all I did was release my mane from its chignon.

In the clichéd words of a credit card ad … cost of hair clip – SGD6 … cost of PowderPuff’s expression as she realised it was me – priceless. Fortunately, she did an abrupt about-turn and disappeared back into the dark shadows again before I had time to develop a dangerous gleam in my eyes.

Drama over, it was a protracted virgil as we awaited the return of the judges. I can only assume they had gone for a leisurely lunch because it could not have been to deliberate over the results. According to Nur Shiblie and Tama Goh, the only local judge in the panel, the judges handed their scores in fairly quickly after the end of the performances and all collation were done without their aid.

Young Girls, Get Out of My Stage …
During the wait, the MC tortured us with the same jokes and lame puns as the first and second sets. Actually he used these throughout the two days. However, the one bright thing he did was to invite three dolled-up kids, who were evidently one of the winners from the Children’s Troupe competition held earlier that day, to dance with him on the stage.

This was evidently not a planned event as the little girls were delighted and proceeded to upstage, outclass and outdance the rotund clown. I’m not a rugrats fan but even I had to admit these girls were darn cute.

Bet That’s How They Felt When Reagan Won …
At long last the judges returned and after some miscues, the results were announced. These were –

1st – Jamila
2nd – Sha Sha
3rd – Joey

There was a short pause before the applause and the sibilant whisperings started. Everyone was shocked. Jamila???!! Are you kidding me???

No offense to this statuesque beauty but she was nowhere in the top three in anyone’s estimation. Frantically rifling through my notes, I scanned them to check if I might have missed something. Nope. By no stretch of the imagination could Jamila have been the winner.

What happened to Rani? Everyone was stunned and I turned to where Nur Shiblie had been seated to check her reaction. I did not see her but we were all agog with curiosity, shock and sympathy. Frankly, we felt that Rani had been robbed. There was no way she did not win the solo competition and I am not speaking out of friendship or bias – since I have only ever spent minimal time with Rani (I think I wandered into their dressing room by mistake while trying to remember mine) at the Hossam Ramzy concert and even then I was always in solitude backstage trying not to get lost, and at a master teacher workshop years ago.

While I could accept the fact that Sha Sha and Joey were the top 3 contenders, the appointment of Jamila as the winner was beyond belief.

It also begged the question of what happened to Maia. Even if you accused the organiser of rigging the results such that all three positions were accorded to her students, it was bizarre how Maia was overlooked. She definitely outshone her schoolmates and I was immensely puzzled at this turn of events.

My heart went out to Rani and Maia.

As I left the museum during the intermission, I encountered a former student of 3A’s school who is currently a student of the organiser’s. Curious as to the insight of an insider, I asked her views on the results. At first reluctant to voice her opinion, she finally, grudgingly, divulged that the results were “surprising”. Further probing encouraged her to opine that she would not have picked Jamila as the winner. I did not want to put her in a more difficult position but it just proved that even within the organiser’s camp, bewilderment ruled the day.

I would have really liked to see Rani, Maia or Nur Shiblie to offer my sympathy and assurance that they were winners in my books. However, I did not catch sight of the Alhambra gang and Maia was preparing for the Troupe contest.

During the break, I spoke to a few more people who all expressed their amazement and in some cases, derision. At this point I still did not know about the organiser’s involvement in the scores tabulation process nor of another incident that occurred after the announcement of the results.

While I was happy for Jamila and her euphoria was evident (3A told me she posted her delight on her blog that very weekend), I secretly thought I would have questioned the decision if I were her. Guilt would have niggled at the back of my mind that more worthy peers had been shafted. Yes, blame the Catholic upbringing but obviously Jamila does not labour under such an over-endowment of guilt complex. And of course I am not Jamila – or even an iota close to her mind-numbing gloriousness.

Carding Jamila
Let’s review my scorecard again just for kicks.

Hmmm, Jamila ranked 5th in the overall category at a more than 2 full points behind Rani. Surely I could not have been that wrong? While I have never adjudicated a belly dance contest, I have been a judge at a dance contest before (and strangely enough, a bikini and talent contest) so I do not think I could be so blazingly wrong as to miss a complete winner!

Even when I sneered at Clay Aiken, I still unwillingly spotted him as a winner from the beginning!

Reviewing my notes, based on just the Traditional segment, the comparison between the winners and my picks were –

Let’s see, in every category, Rani was the clear leader with a head start between 0.25 to 3 points. Even if you argued that Jamila might have won if I had not penalised her on originality & creativity, she would still have had to score 8.2 or more in that category in order to beat Rani. That would have been impossible as, even if her choreography was her own creation, the maximum marks she could have garnered would have been 5/10.

In presentation & framing, she was second to Rani but that was only because I managed not to be besotted with her beauty and realised that Rani’s costuming and overall presentation were more appropriate for her particular choice of music, props and style.

In fluidity of technique, Jamila was the weakest link. In expression, she tied with Sha Sha for third placing and in originality & creativity and rhythm & musicality, she was clearly way out of her league.

Only in the categories of presentation & framing and expression did Jamila even manage to secure a place for herself. In all the other categories, she was consistently the weakest.

Why was Maia who consistently ranked either second or third in all categories not place? And even if by some fluke Rani & Maia did not compete, Sha Sha and Joey both out-performed Jamila.

Before you ask if the judges were males - that is unkind. There was only one male among them. I was truly baffled. Still flogging a dead horse, I pored over the Fusion analysis.

Alright, so Jamila tied with Rani in the presentation & framing category but with the exception of expression, she was again the least impressive. Apparently Jamila once complained on her blog that she faces a lot of discrimination and jealousy because of her beauty and in fact, she has been anointed the “China Barbie Doll”.

I feel for her but as someone pointed out, she probably would not welcome or even understand why I would harbour such feelings of sympathy. Which emanate from greater pride on her behalf than she possesses to want her to win by pure merit and without derogatory naysaying. In fact, it would be my wish for anyone who won this competition.

However, this is not the case as the industry is now riddled with questions, scorn, doubt, ridicule, speculations, bewilderment, surprise, pity, glee and a whole myriad of emotions and opinions.

The unfortunate result of this is that many people are now patting themselves on the back in affirmation of their wisdom in not participating in this mockery. Jamila’s win may seem to come on the back of validation of everyone’s fears and derision.

For that I pitied Jamila for a rather hollow victory in the local solo competition segment of the Asia Global Competition. Jamila allegedly once declared on her blog that she wanted to be a Belly Queen. I congratulate her on achieving her aim. Wishing her all the best, I hoped she would adequately represent Singapore in the international segment the next day against China and Taiwan.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dancerpades Part IV - Score!

The results of the Solo section of the Asia Global competition were not announced till just before the Troupe segment. As I had vacated the area to get a bite to eat with 3A, I was not aware of a serious infringement in the judging process.

Someone Say Florida
Apparently, according to Nur Shiblie, the judges’ scorecards were collated fairly swiftly after the show was over. These were brought to a private room within the auditorium and the judges dismissed. What no one noticed, except for the extremely beady-eyed, was that only two persons were allowed into the room to collate and finalise the scores. Nur Shiblie was lurking within the auditorium to personally verify the judging process and speak with the judges and organisers.

When she saw who the two persons were, she raised a fuss but apparently, was ignored. One of the two persons working the scores was the organiser … also the teacher of 11 out of 14 of the contestants.

How this could have happened is a question we would all like to know. As yet, we have had no answers from the organisers. Nur Shiblie was outraged and insisted on an answer as to why there was no non-Chinese or middle eastern judge on the panel. She also questioned how the organiser/teacher could be allowed to handle the scores when that is a blatant conflict of interest and a sure case of what we call “kelong” … a Malay slang which means to cheat.

Despite her protests, Nur Shiblie was ignored and she finally gave up, hoping that justice will prevail.

Blissfully ignorant of all this, 3A and I sat down with some others to discuss our predictions over a quick bite and coffee. These were the results of our spirited discussion.

White Shade of Pale
Out of 14 contestants, only 1 was non-Chinese although 3A and I disagree on Maia. 3A thinks Maia may not be fully Chinese but whatever her racial make-up, it still signals a great imbalance. Why this would be an issue is because all the judges are Chinese and say what you will, cultural preference does play a part.

Take for instance, the organiser’s school’s students’ tendency to hold their fingers in what I call the Chinese cultural dance way, which looks like something from a Chinese opera. I personally would mark dancers down for that kind of fingers but a Chinese judge would find this totally acceptable. By the way, many of the middle eastern master teachers also find the Chinese wayang fingers disturbing.

I questioned why there was such an uneven representation of the races – did the national statistics change while I was not looking? Also, as many Muslims consider the dance form haram, this would have prohibited many Muslim girls from performing in public. But still, I wondered where all the Indian and Eurasian girls were.

Taking out our individual notes, we concluded that the winner would be Rani. Second and third place was still up for grabs, as it were, but after some discussion, we put Maia as second and either Layla or Sha Sha in third.

As I did not have the time to sort through my notes and scores, I did not tabulate them before the results were announced but in hindsight, if I had, this would be what they would have looked like.

Obviously in the Traditional segment, Rani took the crown by a wide margin. Maia and Sha Sha were credible but just no match for our Queen of Traditional. I was surprised to see Shayna ranked so high, beating even Joey and Layla till I reviewed my notes and realised why. While Shayna may have been technically less proficient than her teacher, Joey, or her classmate, Layla, at least her choreography was less lifted from a well-known dancer and teacher. Her partial adherence to originality & creativity helped pull her marks above the other two.

Similarly, Wei Ling, despite being a much weaker dancer than Jamila, managed to squeak past her because her choreography was more original and traditional, and was not stolen from yet another well known local teacher.

Casting our eyes now at the Fusion section, I admit I was necessarily more stringent.

Why such dismal scores? Because too many people seem to think Fusion is the ticket to invent ludicrous movements, slap together combinations of moves which do not make sense or have any reason for being, ignore all the principles of dance and music, discard common sense and good taste, and basically bullshit their way through.

The blatant disregard of intellectual property, manners and common decency is what has afflicted this category, causing the marks to be so disgraceful. Upon looking at 3A’s scores, hers were just as dismal.

In this category, it became even more apparent that the contestants who lacked in talent, at least had integrity and managed to overtake those with less moral fibre.

In case you think I am imposing my own moral codes on a contest of which I have no say, that may be true but I also interviewed the judges and other dancers who rejected the invitation to be judges on the issue of originality & creativity. Majority agreed that it is almost impossible to award points when the choreography was not created by the dancer or teacher. As one eminent dancer/teacher, who turned down the offer to adjudicate the Traditional segment, pointed out this not only affects the originality & creativity criteria but also rhythm & musicality as these are tied to the choreography.

To even think they can learn an ancient dance form in a week or reverse engineer moves based on decades of training and study is an indication of the terminal smugness some of these contestants possess.

To this thieving trend among many of the contestants, I have a question – what happened to your pride, integrity and dignity?

I had to look away from the Fusion scorecards before I lost my lunch as I collated the overall scores … not in a tiny room but honorably and with transparency. Here you go –

Before the announcement of the results, I also took the opportunity to interview some dancers and students I had seen loitering around on their predictions. Rani was the clear winner with the other two top positions bandied between Sha Sha, Joey and Maia.

Which is why the results were a shocker.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Dancerpades Part III - Fusion Lesions & Violations

It is at this point that I begin to sound a little strident but you will have to excuse me because the insult and injury to me in this conclusion of Part III is extremely personal.

Again, I noticed a number of my foodblogger friends coming here and probably getting a bit of a shock at the seemingly endless dance-related posts. My apologies, me hungry friends, but I made a promise to some dance peers that I will give a detailed review of an event which happened recently and until I fulfill that, regular gluttonous posts will not resume. However, I can promise that they will resume soon with a review on a vegetarian restaurant, Iranian cuisine, modern Italian cuisine and maybe if things work out, another recipe. Till then, please bear with the dance posts.

Continuing on the Fusion segment of the Solo competition, we have –

Fusion Lesion
The brave little dancer from Alhambra was up next. Lay Khoon was the only dancer in this competition who did not have a costume change. Which, to me, was not really an issue as her white bedleh was extremely flattering on her and was modern enough to see her through the fusion segment.

Performing a pop fusion number to a remixed version of Enta Omri from the overplayed Bellylicious compilation CD, Lay Khoon again floundered with timing in her inexperience . I thought the interpretation of the music was a little feeble and the music was just too fast for Lay Khoon’s weak technical foundation.

Her stoic performance earned her a 5.5/10 for presentation & framing; 4/10 for fluidity of technique; 4/10 for expression; 4.5/10 for originality & creativity; and 4/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, she scored a 4.4/10.

I was not keen on Sha Sha’s entrance into her fusion number. Shrouded in her blue and yellow double veils, she looked like a mourning wraith creeping sideways into the stage. While this was meant to lend a dramatic touch to her entrance, it just came across as funeral and creepy.

Sneaky little …er, big … Sha Sha immediately appealed to my mushy, lyrical-loving side by performing a subtle, softly delicate piece to Towers of Dreams. While Sha Sha had not blown me completely away during her Traditional performance, she was much more appealing in her Fusion interpretation.

Her musicality and stage persona were more apparent and I liked her control of her double veils, which enveloped her in an ethereal cloud without swathing her from sight. It was then I really envied her height as the visual impact of her barrel turns with the double veils at such height was quite stunning.

Just as I was getting a little visually jaded, Sha Sha literally pulled out her next surprise. Whereas we assumed she was just doing a pop fusion, double veil routine, it turned out Sha Sha was actually performing a Chinese fusion dance. Tucked into her hip belt were two Chinese dance ribbons which she proceeded to unleash into twirling ribbons above and around her.

The surprise element was worth ½ point at least and I applauded her creativity until someone informed me later that the choreography appeared to be a Tamallyn Dallal’s number. Sigh. I had to reassess the points I gave her for originality & creativity. While it was a beautifully performed number and Sha Sha should be commended on her understatedly elegant performance, the lack of attribution is a sore point with me.

Technically, Sha Sha was competent in her middle eastern technique but to be honest, her Chinese ribbon technique was basic, albeit well controlled and visually captivating. Also, because so much attention was paid to her props, except for her opening sequence, there was not much middle eastern dance integration. I would have liked to see a better balance.

For her performance, I gave Sha Sha a 7/10 for presentation & framing; 5.75/10 for fluidity of technique; 6/10 for expression; 3.5/10 for originality & creativity; and 6.5/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, she garnered a 5.75/10.

I have to take a deep breath at this point because the next dancer offended every inch of my body, mind, soul and spirit.

The next dancer was Jenna. From her attire of gold lame harem pants and choli, it was obvious her item would be an Indian fusion piece. Before this competition, a few dancers had joked that it was likely that some of the organiser’s students would rip off at least one of my Indian fusion choreographies. I had retorted hopefully that they were surely not be so disrespectful or delusional and would seek my consent or at least inform me if they were. As far as I knew, none of her students were up to par to perform any of my numbers without some serious coaching.

When Jenna came out, 3A again nudged me as if to hint that it was probably one of my numbers. When I saw Jenna holding tealights, I wondered but thought it could not be as I had not taught that lot how to dance with tealights to any of my numbers.

When Jenna laid on the ground and placed the tealights on her body and hands, I cringed at her corpse-like and totally inappropriate pose and told 3A in relief that it was not one of mine.

When the first strains of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s dulcet vocals wailed across the room, I sat there gobsmacked. Not only did she lift my choreography, she was massacring it right before my eyes. She and her schoolmates had seen me throughout the day but not once did she even give me the courtesy of telling me she was going to perform my number.

The lighting man was an idiot as he did not switch on a single light as Jenna crawled out from her corpse position gingerly balancing the tealights. All we saw were the flickering of tealights and vague flashes of a leg here, an arm there. This idiocy lasted for about 20 seconds as the first introductory notes rang a leaden toll in my heart.

However, he might just as well as left the lights out. Jenna proceeded to fumble through slight arm movements, more concerned with balancing a tealight on her head and hand, while my students in the room looked up at me with widened eyes and horror plastered across their faces. One actually asked me, “What is that??? It looks like it should be your Piya Rey but … did you teach her?”

My embarrassment knew no bounds. As I watched Jenna butcher my choreography because she had no clue how to dance with tealights and obviously could not replicate the movements of my choreography, my ire began to rise above my utter humiliation. Right there and then, I told my students if I ever caught any of them performing my Piya Rey in that fashion, I would hunt them down and kill them.

I was so angry that I began to mock stab myself through the heart and the dancers in the room who knew me and knew that that was one of my signature pieces all laughed and gave me commiserating and pitying looks. 3A sniggered and gloated at first but when she realised how genuinely upset I was, she began to cast extremely scornful looks at Jenna.

Let me just put this in perspective. Years ago I performed Piya Rey for a large corporate event and I kindly invited the organiser and Joey to be my “back-up” dancers for this number. Please note they were paid for this performance. While I dance upstage sans tealights, these two flanked me downstage with tealights. Because of their lack of Indian classical dance background, I choreographed some very simple poses for them which involved them moving the tealights around but barely dancing.

I have only performed this routine with tealights in front of a predominantly Indian audience and I have never taught this to anyone. The organiser and Joey, therefore, have never seen my Piya Rey with tealights number and only harbour dusty memories of my phenomenally stripped-down tealight routine for them.

As such, it was obvious, they ripped off the poses I taught them when they were my back-up shadow dancers, ripped off the choreography I taught their students at the workshop, tore it apart, ruined it and spat it out like regurgitated mush for Jenna to despoil at this competition.

How this can even be given an originality & creativity score is beyond me. Perhaps a score of the most original destruction of a ripped off choreography, yes.

To say I am furious is an understatement. We had known of the organiser and her gang’s duplicity and frequent piracy but the blatant audacity to do this in the faces of the ones they are ripping off is beyond the pale. I am beyond disgusted. I have not felt so violated since I went to see my gynae. Sorry Dr Rauff.

Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise. Because Jenna did such a bad job of performing Piya Rey and the organiser and her minions did such a disastrous job of pirating my choreography, the audience was extremely cold towards Jenna's inflammatory insult.

Objectively, Jenna did not dance. She barely moved her hips in nebulously faint hip accents, she hardly moved from the spot, her movements were as Indian as Bill Gates and her middle eastern dance techniques were nowhere in sight. All Jenna did was balance the tealights and shuffle. She was essentially just a human tealight holder.

I was paradoxically relieved and angered. Relieved that no one thought I had anything to do with that travesty of a dance and infuriated that they had dared to blatantly rip me off while I was sitting there in the audience.

The good thing that came out of this was that my students now truly appreciated my choreography, teaching and style. As one of them disclosed, she had not really enjoyed this number before as she could not understand it but after seeing Jenna’s farce of a dance, she began to really appreciate my dance.

Now that I have ranted, I will rate this sham. Jenna got a 4/10 for presentation & framing; a 1/10 for fluidity of technique; 3/10 for expression; 0/10 for originality & creativity (although if I could give minus points I would); and 0/10 for rhythm & musicality. I think have been very fair as giving points, instead of a slap to face as vicious as the one they have given me, is incredibly generous of me I think. So, overall, this criminal thievery received 1.6/10.

The beauteous Jamila came next in her beautiful peach and blue bedleh which she later revealed to be her personal customisation from two different costumes. I commend her on her taste as she looked fabulous in it. But then again, she is so gorgeous that I think almost anything would look good on her.

This mainland Chinese dancer (at a later interview, Jamila informed me she is a Singapore citizen) glided through her Ayesh Beek number with vividly hued double veils. While there was much traveling and veils manipulation, her veil technique was not as strong as Sha Sha’s. However, she exhibited more middle eastern techniques and I rather thought this evened things out between these two rather similar dancers.

Again, she pulled out the popular (at least with her school) pharoanic arms which I thought was a little out of place with the music and she, too, displayed the unfortunate chicken shoulder shimmies and arms that so plagued Nyssa. Her fingers were weak, her travelling was marred by the same affliction blighting all her schoolmates - legs which were spread too widely. She really fumbled when she had to perform a Sohair accented traveling circles – her timing and rhythm just gave up the ghost and decided to take a holiday.

Still, Jamila is so beautiful that even with less than stellar techniques, you would be mesmerised. Even if she was squatting on the ground and picking her nose, you would still happily watch her and conveniently miss the distasteful acts as you bask in her glory. I was not sure if her choreography was another lifted number as someone stated that it might be another Tamallyn Dallal number. In light of all the precursors of duplicity, I marked her down on originality & creativity. I was not inclined to be overly generous in this respect being one of the victims.

I gave her a 7.5/10 for presentation & framing; 5/10 for fluidity of techniques; 5.5/10 for expression; 3.75/10 for originality & creativity; and 4.75/10 for rhythm and musicality, giving Jamila an overall score of 5.3/10.

My favourite dancer’s return to the stage in a gorgeous blue one-piece costume was both a pleasure and slight concern. Rani was the only one who wore a one-piece during this competition and again, that pointed to her real individualism that sets her apart from the rest in both style, class, originality and league.

However, since Alhambra is not known for their fusion, I worried that Rani might not perform as well as her outstanding Traditional piece.

As before, the difference between the schools was apparent. Whereas the organiser’s school would swirl, flick and float their veils for visual impact before discarding them to dance without prop, the Alhambra way was more creative. Sure, they did the requisite swirl, flick and floats but they also strategically released the veil, danced, and then seamlessly picked up the veil again for another segment of veil dance before discarding it finally.

Rani’s veil control was solid even if not flashy, like Sha Sha's or Jamila's. This could be pegged to the prevailing traditional style so advocated by her school. Again, her technique was obviously superior as she executed her hip and shoulder accents to the beat and with consummate control. Her timing and sense of rhythm were spot on even if I was not as impressed by the interpretation of the song.

But somewhere along the way, something went wrong. Listening to the music and seeing Rani turned her back to the audience for a prolonged period as she seemed to discreetly prod herself in the chest, 3A and I concluded that she was probably going to do a sagat segment within her performance. We were very excited as this would be the first and only sagat performance. Being a bit sagat-challenged myself, I was delighted as dancing to sagat will demonstrate another level of technical and musical superiority.

However, after too many moments had passed, during which time this experienced dancer still danced gentle taksims to the counts, Rani turned back to the audience empty handed. 3A and I looked at each other and I declared, “Note to self: Never put sagats in bra top in case they get stuck. At least she can carry off a costume malfunction now,” as I simulated two sagats plastered to the headlights. 3A smacked me. Bully.

Either Rani could not fish the sagats out in time or one of the elastic bands on the little cymbals had broken – something which happened to me once as the elastic on one side of the sagats broke, causing the golden disc to fly across the stage, almost taking out an audience member’s eye.

What a pity! Er … that Rani did not dance with the sagats, not that I did not maim someone with mine … I was very disappointed as I think that would have further lifted Rani from the competition. As it was I think she did well and was still the leader of the pack but I would have sure loved to see her leave everyone else in her bare-heeled dust with a climatic sagat flourish. Oh well …

Rani’s extended her lead with 7.5/10 for presentation & framing; 7/10 for fluidity of technique (minus point for the sagats stuck in bra incident); 7/10 for expression; 7/10 for originality & creativity; and 6.5/10 for rhythm & musicality. Her overall score was 7/10. Not as good as her traditional piece but still lovely.

Poor Wei Ling, again in her unenviable position as the final dancer and right after Rani, was the last dancer from Alhambra. Also dancing to Enta Omri, but the original version, Wei Ling was stunning in a deep orange bedleh that made her look seductively burnished.

Her stage presence was strong and her confidence high. Watching her was pleasant despite her raw technical skills. I was not a fan of her interpretation of this famous song as she rushed her movements such that there were hardly any pauses as combinations collided into each other. It made figuring out what she was doing difficult because the movements all seemed to meld together with no definition or delineation.

Wei Ling’s sense of timing and rhythm also faltered and again, it was obvious she is quite a beginner. Still, I like her stage style and her unwavering smile and spirit.

I gave Wei Ling a 6/10 for presentation & framing; 4/10 for fluidity of technique; 5.75/10 for expression; 5.5/10 for originality & creativity; and 4/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, she garnered 5.05/10 for her efforts.

Hereby ends the Traditional & Fusion segments of the local solo competition for the Asia Global competition. We were dismissed for an hour as the judges deliberated.

I will relay my observations, discoveries and an exposé in the next Part. I warn you now, what I shall post next will shock and horrify you. It will also turn the entire industry on its head. However, I cannot in all good conscience participate in the deliberate fraud of our industry even if it casts a very bad light on all of us.

I need a stiff drink first …