The Sunday TimesPlus

17th November 1996



Just watch and react

By afdhel aziz

In Colombo last week performing at the Lionel Wendt, were the British-based Mark Baldwin Dance Company. Mark Baldwin was born in Fiji and trained in New Zealand. He started his professional career as a founder member of the Limbs Dance Company and also danced with the New Zealand Ballet and the Australian Dance Theatre.

In 1983, he joined Rambert Dance Company of London , during which he developed his choreography skills. He left Rambert in 1992 to pursue his solo career, establishing a company that quickly proved one of the most critically acclaimed to emerge in recent years.

His company includes Shelley Baker, Vivien Wood, Gabrielle McNaughton , Antonia Franchesci, Paul Old and Jeff Rann, dancers who have worked with everyone from the New York City Ballet to the Siobhan Davies Dance Company. Mark Baldwin himself is currently Associate Choreographer at the Scottish Ballet and has also won a "Time Out" award for his work which has been described as "up to the minute, yet timeless."

The evening began with "Confessions", which was premiered at the 1996 Edinburgh Festival. It is a piece based on composer James McMillan's "Confessions of Isabel Gowdie", which was ostensibly about the victim of a witch hunt - the16th century version or the Joseph McCarthy episode

The music is dynamic and percussive, with many flourishes stabbing through, the dancers using the force to strut and stagger through the piece. I did not immediately understand what was going on and had to read the programme, which explains how the piece uses the concept of "ranters" ( you know, the kind of religious fanatics who chant "Off with their heads" ) against the hapless victims of paranoia and distrust.

The costumes were silvery tunics and black PVC kilts for the men, lending a strangely Star Trekkian feel to the whole thing. The dancers used great physical strength in their movements, reducing some sections to what looked like new age t'ai chi, with upper bodies supporting their weight so that they looked like weathervanes rippling in the breeze, under stark platinum spotlights.

After the break, the company returned with the slightly more accessible "Mirrors" , a work that was intriguingly described as being originally developed as an interactive computer piece, in collaboration with computer artist Carole Murcia. However, the computer dimension of the piece was apparently omitted. The music was by Ravel, "Noctuelles", "Alborado del Gracioso", "Mirrors" and "Une Barque sur L'Ocean". It is a whodunnit set to dance, that along the way manages to sidetrack us into the question of whydunnit ? An action performed on one dancer has repercussions on another at the other end of the stage. As various protagonists become victim and villain in turn, the weapon is passed from hand to hand , with the final stabbing-in-the-back killing all four dancers simultaneously. The piece is danced with fluidity of form , and with this we begin to see some of the characteristic stylings of Mark Baldwin as a choreographer - the willingness to explore different spatial possibilities., the little jog that he has his dancers do before they begin a sequence of events, like Carl Lewis starting the run-up to the long jump.

Probably the simplest piece, and therefore the most crowd pleasing one, was the dance solo by Shelley Baker, to the strains of the Beatles "Julia". Four minutes of graceful, supple dancing that didn't rely on strange movements or gawky posturings was an oasis in the desert for the audience, allowing them to get their breath back before the ultimate offering.

"Vespri" was a secular take on "Vespers" by Claudio Monteverdi, to celebrate the birth of the Virgin Mary. The baroque harpsichords and tenor voices of the music were reflected in the slight Olde English feel to the dancing, with fragments of what looked like the jig or gavotte interspersed into the physicality and openess of the piece.

The blue costumes and the air of fresh faced happiness finally showed the dancers enjoying themselves and the audience beginning to get the picture.

Did I find the evening emotionally engaging ? Not really. A bit too avant-garde and cerebral for me to be able to relax and watch it properly. As someone said to me on the way out, "the best thing to do with things like this, is to not analyse it too much and just react to it !"

The Lybyan Episode

by Wilfrid Jayasuriya
Published y Navrang, New Delhi

Reviewed By M. Mahasenan

The Libyan Episode, the latest novel by Wlfrid Jayasuriya is a rare book. An enlightening book. A book a student of English literature, or any literature, cannot afford to miss. Should not miss, in fact. At a time when card holding literary critics are splitting their hair to define the novel, it gives us a clear idea as to what is not a novel, for it has all that a novel should not have, and still the author insists it is a novel. And I read or managed to read the novel.

The plot is knit around the tea trade and its intricate technicalities. The theme is self realisation. Self realisation of the central character called Jerry. The writeup in the foldover of the book jacket reads thus- "The theme is: how does a man confront the problems of his station, and resolve them, without compromising himself."

The introduction informs the reader that the writer has been guided by an American instructor and parts of the book had been read out to an American audience. The result: we get a CEO in Sri Lanka. I think the writer knows that we in Sri Lanka did not have the CEO, President, vice President system, until recently.

This is a fundamental mistake in the reality the novel attempts to create.This makes the novel unreal as a Sri Lankan novel. Similarly words like "carport", (p 29) don't exist in the local vocabulary. It is not wrong to use such a word. But in attempting to create a Sri Lankan setting, Sri Lankan spirit, Sri Lankan life, a vocabulary alien to our British colonial mind, punctures and deflates the illusion.

Jerry has a habit of recollecting quotes from famous books. A stream of consciousness device in fact. Sickening to be sincere. (p 28).

The reader is bombarded from all directions with quotations from various books, disrupting the flow of the narrative. These should in fact come as allusions rather than direct quotes reflected by the central character. This makes Jerry look more like a pandithaya in the colloquial sense of the word. A load of artificial quotations of a shallow character.

I remember somebody quoting Waldo Emerson.(Now, I have got Jerry's habit) "Every hero becomes a bore at the end" he says .Nothing can be more accurate than this in Jerry's case. The hero of the novel does become a bore at the end.

The only difference is that Jerry begins as a bore. And remains a bore throughout the novel.

The flaw in Jerry's characterisation is that he never comes to life throughout the novel.That is the tragic flaw of the novel, perhaps. He looks more like a plastic character out of a Morality Play. Neither are the other characters of the novel "alive". It is a plastic world, which has neither the flavour of tea nor of Ceylon.

The narrative is loose. For example: "...he chewed mouthfuls of cashewnuts, lightly fried in hot oil."

Now, how else can you fry something other than in hot oil? Can you fry in cold oil or slightly warm oil?.

There are a lot of other questions that need answers. Do we need an introduction to the Maha-wansa (page70)? Do we need a description of a banana tree being cut? worse, how to eat a banana? (P71). Do we need an introduction to the Jataka Tales? Do we need a wrong introduction to the Jataka Tales? As "Folk tales in classical Sinhalese?" The basic question is for whom is the book written. Be it Americans, be it Sri Lankans, either way the novel is a fiasco.

Arumugam's -an Indian Tamil worker's-son is called Miguel. A very unlikely name for Arumugam's son.. Another blunder is Santhalingam-Jerry thinks Santhalingam means a holy phallas. Wrong. Santha doesn't mean, as in Sinhala, Saint or Holy. Santha means Peace. Get your facts correct before you write Jerry. (P.81).

"Tea prices depended on supply and demand."(P101) Can anyone tell me any other commodity that does not conform to this theory? In fact it is tea that some economists say that is manipulated by other forces.

Despite all these I did really learn something by reading the book. That the letters CWE stands for Cooperative Wholesale Establishment.

In brief the writer has wasted a wealth of experience- first hand experience- a rare and unique experience-that could have been turned into a much better novel. But what we have instead is cold tea. It is a classic example of how a single cook can single-handedly spoil a pot full of aromatic Ceylon tea.

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