Patrick Suzeau’s ‘Short Stories’ tells many tales through dance

Contemporary dancer and professor Patrick Suzeau performing on stage.

Contemporary dancer and professor Patrick Suzeau performing on stage.

Acclaimed dancer/choreographer Patrick Suzeau concludes his time in Kuala Lumpur with a showcase featuring local dancers.

You start choreographing when words are no longer potent. If you can talk about it, you don’t have to dance it,” says internationally-acclaimed contemporary dancer Patrick Suzeau, who is concluding his Fulbright Fellowship residency in Kuala Lumpur.

Words from the wise, indeed: Suzeau has over four decades of dance experience, having performed for luminaries like Mary Anthony, Pearl Lang and Anna Sokolow, and is also co-founder of the US-based Cohan/Suzeau Dance Company and Professor of Dance at the University Of Kansas.

Drawn to Malaysia by the multitude of cultural influences, Suzeau’s five-month residency, during which he taught at the National Arts Culture and Heritage Academy (Aswara) in Kuala Lumpur, will culminate this weekend in a contemporary dance showcase called Short Stories. Made up of pieces from the Cohan/Suzeau repertoire, as well as one new piece inspired by Suzeau’s time in KL, the show will feature Aswara dancers who have been working with him during his tenure here.

“The dance here is just like the food!” says Suzeau. “You get to experience three different cultures, and also see how they’ve blended together. You get the best of Indian classical dance, you get Chinese dance, and then you have the Malay dances, which are just beautiful!”

Short Stories, he shares, will begin with Gandharva, a synthesis of contemporary and Indian classical dances. This will be followed by Le Dormer Du Val (Sleeper Of The Valley), a solo piece originally conceived in 1985 that Suzeau himself used to perform till recently. Based on a poem by Arthur Rimbaud, the lyrical piece examines the opposing sides of being human, specifically the tensions between nature and war.

Muddy Confluences – Ode And Addiction, meanwhile, is a new piece reflecting on Suzeau’s experiences in KL. Featuring 15 local dancers and set to a hang drum duo score, Suzeau dubs it a whimsical piece.

“I won’t tell you what the “addiction” in the title refers to, that’s a surprise. The piece, however, is about trying to create a sense of community, and the addiction is the distraction. The work grew out of dance phrases that emerged in discussions and sessions I had with my dancers, with influences from Malay, Chinese and Indian elements,” he explains.

Also in the line-up is Caligula, a portrait of the hedonistic Roman emperor that draws on ego, madness and cruelty. Performed in silence, it is a much-acclaimed solo work that Suzeau has performed for 40 years. Yet, here, he is handing the mantle to local dancer/choreographer Wong Jyh Shyong.

“It is a very powerful solo, very tightly choreographed. And when I saw Wong performing, I thought, ‘He could be Caligula’,” says Suzeau.

This intense item will be followed by the farcical Winsome Wench And Handsome Hero Vanquish Vile Villain, which will see Suzeau himself take to the stage, in a piece inspired by the silent film era that combines mime and dance.

A rich experience: American contemporary dancer and professor, Patrick Suzeau, will be concluding his Fulbright Fellowship residency in Kuala Lumpur with a showcase called Short Stories.
A rich experience: American contemporary dancer and professor, Patrick Suzeau, will be concluding his Fulbright Fellowship residency in Kuala Lumpur with a showcase called Short Stories. 

Emergence, meanwhile, also has a Malaysian connection: it was created by Suzeau and his partner Muriel Cohan following a residency at arts centre Rimbun Dahan here in 2013, where the duo was very much taken by the natural beauty of the space.

“It is abstract, but it is also about tendrils, roots, the drama of growth,” Suzeau says, who will also be performing in Portrait, a darkly humourous rumination on the dilemmas faced by modern man.

The show will conclude with Short Stories, a suite of solos choreographed in 2012 which are performed to French songs by Barbara, George Brassens and Jacques Brel. Unrelated to each other yet unified by the music, the pieces create a series of poetic images.

The opportunity to work with emerging dancers here, particularly of the contemporary school, has given him valuable insight into the field’s development outside of the United States and Europe.

“Young dancers outside of the United States and Europe haven’t really gone through the historical development of contemporary dance, but with the Internet, they now have access to everything. So often, the stuff we see from them – or for that matter, even from dancers in the US and Europe – is straight off the Internet, and hasn’t been deeply processed.

“Despite the rich background of influences here, some dancers don’t choreograph fully from the Malaysian experience,” he says.

“There are, however, some gems being created, such as this piece called Madu in Aswara’s Tari ‘14 dance festival; it was very taut, and every movement sent the message.”

Creating original pieces of work, he says, requires dancers to “dig deep”.

“I just want (the dancers here) to keep on digging to find who they are.”

Most essential, he adds, is the willingness to work hard to do something one loved.

“You have to love the act of dancing. And that happens 80% in the classroom, and 20%, if you’re lucky, onstage!”

Short Stories is showing this Sun (Jan 18), 5.30pm, at Shantanand Auditorium, Temple Of Fine Arts, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. Admission is on a ‘pay as you wish’ basis.

dance , Patrick Suzeau , Short Stories