Everyone of us in NTU has probably heard of MJ Hip Hop before. As one of our pioneering dance clubs, MJ is at the forefront of the dance scene here, consistently drawing huge crowds whenever they make an appearance. On 24 and 25 August 2019, MJ showed once again why they continue to be so highly regarded at Dancetitude, their biennial production.
The 2019 iteration of Dancetitude, Blue World, was set during a brutal war in the fictional nation of Malkovia. As we progressed through the evening, each choreography added another little piece to the story, and it became evident that Blue World was not about war per se, but about the people caught up and struggling within it. The audience was introduced to five individuals, and we spent the evening tracing their trials and tribulations as people caught in the middle of a full blown war.
Young Kaleb and his sister Kiera provided much of Blue World’s emotional impetus as we followed their harrowing journey on the run from the clutches of the encroaching Dorian Army. The sweet innocence that Leonard Low breathed into Kaleb was set against the compassion of Hazel Tan’s struggling Kiera, lending gravitas to the difficult situations the pair found themselves in.
The commander of the Dorian Army, Hannes, strode in and out of the spotlight as he endeavoured to take over Malkovia. Nabeel Azhar’s ruthless portrayal lent a menacing tint to Hannes’ agenda before the cracks in his character started to show, and more was revealed than initially met the eye. In fierce opposition was Jude, the leader of the Resistance. Fiery and forceful, the character was brought to life by Yeo Zhi Yi as the antithesis to the cold, unfeeling Hannes.
In the midst of these intertwined character arcs flitted Josie, a character with bouncy, upbeat energy as portrayed by Janice Goh. Kaleb’s mysterious pal added another dimension to the story and stole the spotlight whenever she appeared.
We were introduced first of all to Kaleb. The first performance, “Forest Adventure”, brimmed with imagination and whimsical spirits and fairies, giving us a first impression of a little boy and his ideas. Josie too, made an appearance here, setting up what would be a key pairing for the rest of the production as we see Kaleb having fun with his best friend. “Forest Adventure”’s idyllic scenes stood in stark contrast with the way we were introduced to Kiera. Her first appearance being in a cutscene, we saw her battered and bruised, frantically trying to escape from a Dorian attack.
In “The People”, we saw for the first time the powerful Hannes, his brash personality commandeering the spotlight in a way that Kaleb and Josie would not. It would be awhile before we met his opposition, though. Melancholic but strong, “The People” was distinct from the cheery and high-energy opening, leading the audience to believe happiness is to be short-lived.
In “Fleeting Joy”, we were pleasantly surprised with a contemporary dance. As the dancers poured their hearts in this piece, which was set to the strings (and thus much sadder) version of Lost Boy, the anguish of war could not have been better conveyed.
“Vices” gave us a unique glimpse into Jude’s character whilst being undercover in a steamy nightclub, but it was in a later item “The Resistance” where we saw her in her true form — leading her forces against Hannes in a bloody confrontation.
A short break from the somber war, we were whisked away to paradise together with Kaleb and Josie in “Fiction”, where we see how the friends reunite in joy. It was not long before they face another dire situation, however, as Kiera and Kaleb were separated from each other and thrown into “Camp XIII”. As bleak as the future looked, the unity and energised shouts of the prisoners recharged us and gave us hope that not all was lost, just yet.
With the stage set and the main characters now familiar to us, the post-intermission portion of Blue World took a turn for the unexpected. Given a peek into Hannes’ perspective for the first time, we see his loving relationship with his son and were made to reconsider what we know of the ruthless Hannes that we knew of. In “Paint For Me” especially, the impenetrable, unfeeling Hannes displayed a side of himself that had been hidden from the start. This softer, vulnerable side of Hannes added a different layer to what was probably the most complex character in the production; if anything, it was now harder to hate the man who had been introduced to us a brutal, merciless killer.
“Hope” accurately depicted the calm before the storm as the prisoners fought for their lives, out of the camp, as the war came to an end. The happiness was not to be taken for granted, however, as Kiera still failed to reunite with her brother. Believing that she had lost him to the war, the fate of Kaleb was always at the back of our minds despite the celebratory atmosphere of “New World”.
The highlight of the second half was probably “Birthday”, the penultimate item and emotional centrepiece of Blue World. With the stage split down the center, we see Kiera sharing a dance with a loose sweater representing Kaleb on one side, while pairs of dancers celebrated their reunion on the other side, showing us the what-could-have-beens for this pair of ill-fated siblings. The visions of Kiera grappling with the loss of Kaleb made this particular scene a piercing depiction of pain and grief, moving many in the audience to tears.
Fortunately, the sombreness of “Birthday” was not for long. The final performance provided a happy ending to Kaleb and Kiera’s tumultuous adventure, ending on a markedly different note to an otherwise rather sombre story full of tragedy and loss.
Ultimately, Dancetitude 2019 was one of the most engrossing, exciting and well put together productions of the year thus far. It was sad that it wasn’t longer, and it is sadder still that the next one won’t be for another two years, but until then I guess all we can really do is relive the adventures of Blue World via the recordings uploaded to Youtube. Till next time, then.