by Yeo Jun Wei (17S03B), Nadiya Nesseer (17S03B) and Tapasya Singh (17S03C)
Photos by Raffles Photographic Society
What does it mean to be a youth?
Hidden within the power and strength of Street Dance, the elegance and control displayed by Modern Dance, and the grace and beauty embodied by Indian Dance, Augmentum: The Spirit of Youth had the perfect answer. This series of two showcases, held on the 30th April at the Performing Arts Centre, grappled with this central question through the enumeration of eight key themes: Innocence, Playfulness, Discovery, Confusion, Uprising, Rebellion, Peace and Celebration.
The hour-long showcases by these three major dance CCAs were one of the most hotly anticipated events in April. Given the relatively small seating capacity of the PAC, tickets were on high demand — so high, in fact, that night-show tickets were sold out within a record-breaking five minutes of opening to snaking queues during ticket sales.
This overwhelming popularity did translate into added pressure to perform for some dancers, however. The pre-concert week was undeniably a tense one, and in the days leading up to the concert dancers could be seen everyday at the Mirrors on the second floor of Block B, perfecting the details of their choreography. When the first few parents and fellow students trickled into the PAC around 2.30 p.m. last Saturday, the performers backstage were already holding their breath in anticipation, faces fervid under bright cheery makeup.
Nevertheless, Augmentum began on the right foot. The concert opened with an adorable take on the innocence of youth, delivered with precision by the J1s of Modern Dance. Notably, they opted not to rely on pre-recorded music tracks, choosing instead to sing and clap “The Cup Song” (popularized by Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect), all while dancing, using cups to produce the well-known song’s signature beat. This seamless alternation between singing and dancing left many audience members awestruck. “This dance piece was very unique because for the first time ever, the dancers had to sing and dance at the same time,” Amy Tan (17S06G) says of her batch’s performance. “Dance became more than just movement, and really an art piece that tried to show something.”
Through their carefree movements and joyful expressions, the dancers were able to bring the audience back to simpler days.“To us, this dance was trying to show a stage of life, when all we knew was the present, and untouched by fear and worry, we could play all day, have so much fun,” Amy adds. “That was the type of innocence we hoped to show.”
The theme of Playfulness was next presented through two strong, upbeat, energetic performances by Street Dance. Grooving to the popular songs “Geronimo” (by Sheppard) and “Sing” (Pentatonix), the quick and confident dance moves conveyed an intoxicating sense of freedom and the wild, fun-loving attitude of a youth. From the choice of costume (alternating white and blue, shorts and T-shirt), to a dancer not-so-subtly “breaking out” of choreography to cheekily poke his fellow dancer in the side halfway through a piece, playfulness was evident in every detail of this flashy performance.
Following this was Indian Dance, presenting the theme of Discovery with a Sri Lankan dance. Put together by their resident choreographer, this dance was from a genre that none of the dancers had attempted before, truly making it a journey of discovery for them. “I was really nervous that the dance wouldn’t reach out to the audience, especially since it was new to us as well,” said dancer Keerthana Murugan (17S03F).
However, our Indian Dancers clearly managed to overcome their inexperience to execute a skillful dance. The show began with two dancers blowing the ‘shankha’ or divine conch, which is a symbol of rediscovery and new beginnings in Hinduism and Buddhism. The rest of the dance continued to follow the theme of Discovery, with a choreography that included an array of movements atypical in traditional Indian Dance. The use of lighting to create silhouettes was just one of the elements of the clever choreography, another being the use of elaborate costumes and props that further enhanced the beauty of the performance. The dancers’ efforts were evident throughout the dance, and this graceful piece certainly set a sharp contrast to the Street Dance pieces that preceded and followed it.
Street Dance did not fail to deliver either, in the next item. To express the pain of Confusion and the anger of Rebellion, their choreography featured aggressive dance moves showcasing the might and intensity of youth. The dancers whirled and slammed the floor to the troubled beat of songs such as “Rap God” (by Eminem), and froze in chilling positions while dressed as mental patients to the tune of “Paralysed” (by NF). The vigour and energy in their choreography was palpable as many audience members were visibly stirred to cheer for their friends and batchmates.
Their creative use of costumes and props were also something that stood out to the writers of this article. From newspapers and $8 suits which produced a dark urban atmosphere for Confusion, to hospital gowns which gave their “Rebellion” piece an unnerving and disorienting feel, Street Dance had not only excelled in the execution of their sleek dance moves, but also proved their resourcefulness and originality in every aspect of a dance.
As the concert continued, each CCA truly brought the audience on a journey of self-discovery as they expanded their ideas on youth and the different experiences of being a youth. The Modern Dance troupe, mainly comprising the J2s, followed up on their juniors’ opening performance with a magnificent display of their contemporary dance prowess on the themes of Uprising and Peace, constantly awing the audience with their immense flexibility and agility as they glided smoothly and effortlessly across the stage in total synchrony. The amount of effort that had gone into perfecting their choreography was evident from how every performance was in sync with each other and how smoothly the performance flowed.
In a post-concert interview, Cindy Chen (16S07D) told us more about the ideas behind two student choreographies for the theme of Peace, saying: “We decided to approach the theme from two perspectives: The first dance ‘Where the Light Gets In’ focused on inner peace – an acceptance of our unique selves, reflected by the different styles featured in the solos, duets and trios. The second dance ‘Home’ dealt with the sense of harmony with the world, which is manifested in the dance through layering movement and interweaving visuals.” Indeed, this skilful planning had been evident in Modern Dance’s soulful movements, which along with the tranquil music sent the entire PAC into a reflective mood.
The other performances by Indian Dance were the ever-present favourites – a semi-classical piece depicting Rebellion as well as the Bollywood and Folk genres in their Celebration act. The semi-classical piece cleverly depicted the throes of rebellion by having one dancer break out of formation and following a choreography different from that of the other dancers. This performance was thus a demonstration of standing up and standing out, a notion further enhanced by the incorporation of contemporary movements into the classical Indian ‘Bharatanatyam’ dance. Besides that, it was also a true testament to the dancers’ technical prowess, featuring sharp movements held together by excellent posture and grace.
The Bollywood and Folk dances, on the other hand, were a display of passion and celebration. The choreography featured energetic movements coordinated with fast-paced songs, and the dancers’ enthusiasm was eye-catching as the entire audience celebrated along with the dancers on stage.
The concert ended on a high note with a finale performed by all three CCAs. Notably, the CCAs’ members were randomly sorted into three different groups performing a Street, Modern and Indian Dance respectively. This really allowed the dancers to go out of the comfort zone by trying out a dance genre they were unfamiliar with. Perhaps more importantly, the three CCAs were truly able to dance as a big Raffles Dance family – as Joseph Lim (17S06B) of Street Dance puts it, “I felt true happiness for the first time dancing on that stage with the people who mean the most to me.”
Augmentum 2016 lived up to people’s expectations and even surpassed those of many who had doubted the ability for a combined concert involving all three dance CCAs to succeed. In her afterword, Concert Organiser Seow Shiying (16A01D) commented that one of the greatest challenges of executing this collaboration “was how it was hard to find time to practise with all the CCAs together.” She also mentioned, however, that the dancers’ efforts paid off in the end: “[We] managed to truly dance our hearts out even while doing the other genres during our finale piece, “Celebration”. All the dancers really took ownership of the concert and that’s the reason why it turned out the way it did.”
Indeed, Augmentum has raised the bar for future dance concerts with its electrifying performances – to see the dance community in RI unite for such an entertaining night was truly heartening. Going forward, this concert has opened up future possibilities for inter-CCA collaborations, one of the goals the combined dance community hoped to achieve through this concert.