“Hello, would you like to write on this white board your feelings of watching this show?”
The front-of-house volunteers came forward. I felt slightly uncomfortable, smiled and returned to a conversation I was having. How do I feel before a performance, and am I supposed to have any sort of before-show feeling to prepare myself for watching a performance?
I’m not very sure.
Walking into the Arts House Play Den on a Saturday afternoon, greeted by musician Jun seated on stage who turned out to be a friend. Him and his gear laid out neatly in front of him. The electricity pulsating within the cables and lights flashing whenever he touches. There’s a lot of movement and a sense of life. Does life only exist when something moves or is brought to movement?
On the other end of the thrust stage, a red tub containing 20kilograms of uncooked rice lay still. White grains contrasting against the unfeeling red plastic. Rested but glowing with potential under the warm stage lights.
A screen with projected images seduces my peripheral vision constantly. Black and white projections by Amanda Tan informs the audience of time and space in a setless theatre. Is that soil washing against a window pane? Where am I?
Curtains dancing to a soundless wind. Maybe this is home.
Stomping is heard and solo performer Beverly Yuen enters with a red disfigured cloth for a face and typical office outfit for a woman. She is also dragging along a red stick with a rice scoop at the end with high heels on. Procession is what I thought of, even though the journey was a little too short for any emotional response to set in. The faceless woman starts singing in rhymeless verse. What happens when your voice sings but your entire body does not follow? The voice fades off and the body comes back to start the mandala making.
Then the real singing started:
Rice grinding against rice. Rice rubbed against plastic. Rice showered onto the wooden floor. Rice pressed against naked skin. Rice falling through cracks.
Though the entire 45 minute performance had some choreography with taichi and yoga moves as well as repeated every day gestures, none of them seemed to stick to my mind. And a face emerged from the faceless woman – whose facelessness I did not manage to experience enough of. They feel more like imprecise additions that diminish the meditative atmosphere of Jun’s sonic accompaniments and the emanating presence of the rice grains.
After in between moments of costume change and an out of the blue audience interaction, the mandala of 3 metres is finally formed. It only breathed for a moment before Beverly dives into its beautiful and disfigures it. How is it built up to this point of completion only to be taken away so carelessly? What did the mandala mean to enter and exit it casually? Is there any significance to the mandala in performance besides its surface value of harmony and inner life?
When the performance came to an end and the stage left in slight disarray, I still feel unsure of how I felt. If A Walk into The Mandala is a journey through urban life and a hope that we will slow down our pace in life, then maybe the performance has to take more care in doing less as well and drawing out more details in the crafting.