My body still feels the pulse of the pounding drums. My ribs rattling a little, still feeling the resonance. The skin on my face tingles.
I have just watched Orang Orang Drum Theatre’s (OODT) sold out performance of Laguku, the company’s second outing in two years. Last year, it staged Hidup Ini Senget, an original play which bagged two trophies (including one for Best Group Performance) at the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards.
In its exploration of urban life through performance with percussion instruments, OODT bookended six vignettes with the kind of jubilatory, celebratory group-drumming-and-dancing scenes that have Hands Percussion’s signature.
The 17 drummers, mostly of school age, with the exception of the three founding-members (Boyz Chew, Zyee Leow and Damien Leow), were all dressed in a sleeveless yellow V-neck top with a large red ‘ren’ (Mandarin for ‘man’, therefore ‘orang’) on the right side of the chest (for the female performers, the red ‘ren’ was the size of a large boutonniere) over red loose farmer’s pants that came down to the middle of their shins, their feet bare.
When they moved, it was like tongues of fire – leaping, plummeting as if propelled by the pounding beats of the lion-dance drums. Sometimes they flicker to the rattling sound of the drumsticks striking the drums’ wooden lips.
But the performers’ smiles soon turned to frowns in the in-between six vignettes (the performance vocabulary of which belongs strictly to OODT).
Against projected images of a skyline with tall buildings – created by shining a light on cut-up detergent containers and casting their colored shadows on the screen – the group marched as if controlled remotely by some unseen hand.
Here, the performers temporarily dismissed their individuality even though they were out of their uniforms. Every one of them has adopted a different attire, but each were uniformly dole: bent over at the waist, zombie dead-eyes looking nowhere; stepping forward, backward or sideways without any apparent purpose or motivation.
Eventually, something snapped and they stripped when called “to shed off the costume” and to let loose of what’s oppressive. The performers then dance in unison using their shirts to whip the floor, each time cracking the air.
The semiotics of this multi-media performance – which included a headless puppet, wayang kulit and a dumb show – seems to suggest that there is strength and joy in tradition and the traditional, and that contemporary urban culture strips us of connectedness, meaning and most of all destroys happiness.
Laguku is indeed OODT’s song. It’s one that’s sung and danced to with theatricality while images hold our attention and words beg us to consider where we are in this city which, like a wolf, can devour naive little pigs.
This review is republished with permission from BFM’s The Bigger Picture.