HANDS Percussion recently wowed audiences with their first site-specific performance, Opium, at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre. The showcase took audiences to three different sites for four separate pieces, beginning and ending in the same location.
Teaming up with French and Malaysian artists, the unique collaboration resulted in some remarkable pieces, based around the childhood memories of Bernard Goh, HANDS Percussion Artistic Director and the mastermind behind the production. Memories of his opium addicted grandfather, as well as his many visits to France, a land he was always fascinated with. These elements lay the foundation to Opium, revisiting the past through art , music and movement.
The collaboration brought together a talented set of artists, including calligrapher Ong Chia Koon, musician Howz, installation artist Muji Lee, music director Ng Siu Yee, arranger Yuan Leow Yunn and fashion designer Joe Chia and combined drumming, movement, music, installation art and a live calligraphy demonstration for a multisensory treat.
The French contingent consisted of cellist and arranger Florian Antier and vocalist Mathilde Limal, who anchored the opening and closing pieces fantastically. In Drums of Pain especially, Antier stole the show from right the start, plucking away at his cello and using a foot pedal instant recorder to layer up a composition.
During the course of this performance, Antier plucked, strummed, beat and used his instrument in a variety of ways, at one point even picking it up and walking around the ‘stage’ area while literally shredding the cello like a rock guitarist.
French vocalist Mathilde Limal, whose range was incredible, and accordionist Azli Taslim were equally as impressive in sound. All the while HANDS members carried drums, silently walking among the musicians while being painted on by calligrapher Ong Chia Koon.
Next came a dramatic choreography by DPAC artistic director Wong Jyh Shyong, which took place on a ledge outside adding to the cold and desperate ambience of the piece. It revolved around the conflict between desire for freedom and what we think we are capable of. Is freedom real or even possible? The intense battle that takes place between members sought to illustrate this conflict.
In Tunnel of Memories, pianist Yuan Leow Yunn and guitarist Gideon Alu8Khan accompaned Goh while he sang a ballad in Mandarin and French. It was a rare treat to see Goh in the limelight, usually orchestrating all from behind the curtain. He all but bathed the audience in his serene singing. At one point a clock ticking backwards was projected onto him, while the surrounding art installation add to the overall nostalgic effect.
The last piece brought audiences back to the original site, where HANDS members with gamelon instruments took their seats alongside the French musicians for a triumphant finale. Before the show, audiences were handed artisanal chocolates by Love18 – a nice touch to the sensory proceedings – followed by an energetic calligraphy display by Ong Chia Koon.
This led into a set of energetic musical numbers by Edith Piaf, including the classics La Vie En Rose and Je Ne Regrette Rien. Mathilde Limal’s renditions of the seminal songs were had the audience clapping and cheering along, bringing the show to a rousing climax.