HAN – Experimental Theatre at last in KL

I went to see ‘HAN’ last night at Masakini theatre. Having seen ‘Pulse’ at DPAC a few weeks before that pitched itself as avant garde and wasn’t at all, this definitely was.

Avant garde should engaging and mysterious all the way through, at times problematic and at other times exhilarating. The Director, Susan Sarah John truly took us all over the edge to experiment with theatrical devices beyond what we expected, and Han Fei, delivered a full on intense dance/theatrical solo performance.

As with anything experimental, there are hits and misses. Here are some aspects of the performance that I felt didn’t work.

The first third of the show had all natural lighting. A device no doubt to explore the earthy beginnings of the story, however, powerful and innovative lighting is extremely important to set the illusion of the performance. Theatre is not ‘real’ it is ‘unreal’, it should suspend us into another world from the start. Unfortunately, with no theatrical lighting at all, we end up feeling we are simply voyueristically watching someone doing their own thing, instead of being taken on a journey. Great lighting at the beginning of a show can create a ‘moment’ that makes us all jump out of our seats and engage.

The second point was the moments between the scenes where the dancer was still on the stage but out of the light taking a drink and catching her breath. The time was too long, and I felt I had nothing else to watch on the stage during this time, so ended up looking back at her. This I felt took the attention away from the drama of the piece, somehow her ‘breaks’ needed to be still presented on stage in some other way, or she needed to be off stage altogether, while we watched something else.

Another point was the dancer needed to find the light more. Towards the end, there was a beautiful stream of light along the edge of the stage. However, the dancer danced out of the light too long for it to be considered deliberate. At a point she needed to somehow reenter the light at a critical point to accentuate the moment.

However with these criticisms, there were some very dramatic moments, one being the use of the shadow of her dancing making the dancer powerfully larger than life. This device was used well to show the part of the dancers life where fame and glory were explored.

The use of the poem in Chinese I felt was very effective, even though I didn’t know what the poet was saying, it was said with such subtlety and emotion, it somehow gave the audience a sense of cohesion to the moment on stage.

Also the final conclusion where the dancer explored the exhaustion of repetition. The Director showed this very powerfully by using the dancer slowly moving herself through the path of light….to the future, slowly, deliberately and with determination.

All in all the show explored clearly three parts of the life of a dancer and did it using a variety of experimental devices. The Dancer Han Fei gave it her all even in the quietest moments, and the Director Susan Sarah John is someone who is not afraid to take risks, and jump off the cliff to surprise us. KL theatre needs more of this kind of exploration. I’m looking forward to the next show she does.

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