More often than not, in dance works that are very personal in nature, choreographers need a good editor. This is true of Yvonne Ng’s Frequency. I’m mentioning this point first because the length itself and repetitions within Frequency, mar a honey of a dance piece.
Ng is not known for her ensemble work. Apparently her last piece for a large number of dancers was 2006, so we can forgive her choreographic overkill, and put it down to enthusiasm. Frequency is certainly very ambitious for its blending together of movement, technology and design, and should be cited for this strength.
There is certainly a lot to recommend in Frequency, an exploration of identity, connection and societal influences. Joanna Yu’s set is gorgeous with its hanging balls of light encased in yards of material, and a back wall dotted with flower-shaped shards of tulle. It is a white wonderland, where both good and bad things happen. At the beginning, the stage is littered with articles of white clothing, designed by Yu. The five dancers wear these different outfits throughout, as they take on (and let go of) different personas.
A running theme is the influence on the group mentality of peer pressure or herd instinct. The dancers jump high into the air with glee, capturing the unfettered joy of childhood. At other times, they are a mass of synchronized followers, stamping in rhythmic cadence. They challenge each other, whether in competitive fun or darker hints of menace. Ng returns to this theme several times in the piece, and as attractive as these moments are, they collectively are too much, too soon.
There are very arresting images within the piece that conjure up a plethora of themes and meanings. A recurring image is one dancer caught in a headlock by another, the latter’s feet gripping the former’s neck in a vice. The victims flay about the floor but they cannot escape the restraint, as the controllers relentlessly march forward in formation. There is also a repeating male duet (performed by Brendan Wyatt and Zhenya Cerneacov), that is both gentle and disturbing as their bodies entwine. At several points, Cerneacov stretches out on Wyatt’s body, like a visible shadow covering his entire frame. Is it master or lover? The three women (Mairéad Filgate, Amy Hampton and Meredith Thompson) on several occasions launch into graceful, lyrical duets and trios where they are both leaders and followers. The dancers are very, very good, and the expressions on their faces are as important as the very physical movement and highly choreographed hand gestures.
Frequency is rife with complicated technology. Old fashioned, portable tape recorders, cell phones, video projections, land lines ringing. Clearly the emphasis is on connection. The recorders sometimes end up in cunning knapsacks on the backs of the dancers, and the tape cassettes are switched in mid-stream, mostly by Thompson. There is a lot of recorded voice overlap. The attractive other world score is by Erin Donovan.
In other words, there is a lot going on in this very ambitious piece. A tighter, shorter version would have more impact.
The opening work, Ng’s solo Weave…part one is absolutely charming. The format is the popular “talk as you go”, with the monologue accented by movement. It’s the story of Ng’s mother who was abandoned during World War Two. Ng is always expressive, and is particularly adorable and droll in this work. I hope Weave will grow into a complete work.
Frequency, choreography by Yvonne Ng, performed by Zhenya Cerneacov, Mairéad Filgate, Amy Hampton, Meredith Thompson and Brendan Wyatt, The Citadel, Mar. 7 to 11, 2012.