7pm. Thursday, the 6th of April. 2017. The Great Hall.
SWAG 5.0: Chronos.
The stage’s backdrop said as much: SWAG, in big, black, minimalistic letters, projected light patterns spinning around. The event trailer was playing on a screen, suggesting the slick dance moves to come. The crowd filled the seats. Someone munched on tortilla chips. The emcee stood at the wings; occasionally a dancer peeked out, perhaps to catch a glimpse of their friends, or to take in the size of the audience.
Then the lights dimmed, the audience cheering in response. The host of the event, Wei Jun, came onstage to kick things off. After diligently thanking the sponsors, he introduced the theme of this fifth annual instalment of Nottingham Dance Club’s (NDC) SWAG – which entails dance pieces from different timelines – and initiated, to some success, a cheering competition to pump up the audience.
The first piece began innocently enough, with the opening strains of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy leading a solo contemporary dancer (Nicole Lwi Xiau Ling). In a flash, it evolved into the remixed version, with dancers of different style (urban, b-boy, girlstyle, and urban hip-hop) popping up in various locations. This rousing launch into the dances foreshadowed the variety of genres that will be showcased. The music felt jarring initially, but ceased to be an issue as one gets lost in the performances.
Current Era (2014 – 2017)
The first timeline kicked off with K-pop, with a smart dance performed in Korean inspired school uniforms. The dancers took turns in mouthing along to the lyrics, a consistent feature in all the K-pop choreography, which was certainly an enjoyable element. Then, Sia’s Alive strongly lends to the next contemporary piece, a more sombre affair, with long stretches, twists, and stares towards the audience. Then it was back to K-pop, with the dancers, decked out in white tees and blazers, displaying some of the most energetic footwork of the night.
The next two performances provided slick moves alongside pop-songs: first a sassy blend of sharp and sultry movements and hairography; then a demonstration of the night’s funkiest performance, set to Bruno Mars. A third K-pop cover ended this section (proving its popularity of recent years), announced by tick tock sounds. It was a cool exhibition of all-black outfits and flashing lights, backed by sharp, clear moves. As the dancers froze at the end, two came on in an orchestrated mime to partially strip one dancer’s shirt to loud cheers from the audience, setting a tongue-in-cheek humour that transitioned the show towards the next era.
- K-pop: Rough by Gfriend, (Lum Bao Yi)
- Contemporary: Alive by Sia (Tan Le Vian and Olivia Yeoh)
- K-pop: If You Do by GOT7 (Brandon Pillay and Jason Koh)
- Girlstyle/Hip-hop: Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and The Chainsmokers (Lim Mae Vonne)
- Urban: That’s What I Like by Bruno Mars (Arthur Barnabas)
- K-pop: Monster by EXO (Jason Koh and Deron Leong)
1920s – 1970s
It was back (way back) to the classics, starting with a graceful, delicate ballet, that quickly made way for a fiery, flirty samba, a standout of the night, as the pair sashayed and spun with a palpable chemistry. Even though some of the catches seemed less smooth, it was no less thrilling. In one of many moments of transitional brilliance, a group of people in white tees rushed in excitedly to shake hands with the samba dancers, only to start their own feel-good hip-hop dance.
The last Charleston-Swing piece (a personal favourite of mine) took this further, with the dancers dressed in floral print dresses and black gloves. This skilful homage then progressed into a hilarious dance skit involving four guys (with one of them in a dress!), courtesy of the Fitness Club, who showed that they have humour, and dance moves, to spare.
- Ballet: 12 Dancing Princesses Theme Song (Nicole Lwi Xiau Ling and Sasha Amira)
- Samba: Dejare by Rosco Martinez (Narda Virelia)
- Hip-hop: Every Little Step by Bobby Brown (Chen Heng Ling)
- K-pop: Roly-Poly and Funky Town (Lum Bao Yi)
- Charleston and Swing: The Charleston, Booty Swing, and We No Speak Americano (Cherry Lew Yee Lee, Nicole Lwi Xiau Ling, and Lum Bao Yi)
1980s – 2000s
In the first performance after the intermission, the guys didn’t hold back as they showed off their seductive moves, looking extremely dapper in suits and hats and successfully paying homage to the King of Pop. One onstage wardrobe transition later, the infectious old-school vibe carried on with dancers shuffling playfully. Next was another memorable performance – a Bollywood piece which started earnestly as a duet before erupting in a celebratory affair with claps, spins, and colourful whirling Indian skirts.
After another bold girlstyle/hip-hop dance – a crowd favourite, set to the iconic Britney Spears – was a funky number (I especially liked the coloured handkerchiefs tucked in near the waist). This led to the final, standout, performance of this set, not least for its song choice (Tom Jones’ Sex Bomb) and solid power moves. Halfway through the dance there was also a second instance of cross dressing, which elicited laughter from the audience again.
- Backstreet Boys and Michael Jackson: Everybody and Dangerous (Brandon Pillay and Jason Koh)
- Shuffle (Old School): Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer (Brandon Pillay)
- Bollywood: Ramta Jogi and Dholi Taro Dhol Bhaje (Thibbadarshini Ravechandran and Puvana Sandrasekarnn)
- Girlstyle/Hip-hop: Toxic by Britney Spears (Sasha Amira)
- Locking: I Don’t Wanna Stop by Ren Woods (Adrian Seow)
- B-boy: Sex Bomb by Tom Jones (Tey Hong Wei)
Current Era (2000s – 2017)
With a countdown and confetti, the ‘new year’ 2000 was ushered in; thus began the final ‘Current Era’ section. To Ed Sheeran and Jay Chou’s popular love songs, a couple dance played out, setting a more romantic tone, complete with flowers and balloons. An onstage ‘rejection’ transitioned the show to a Beethoven-inspired contemporary affair of flowing white dresses and extending limbs, though the atmosphere was then charged up by the next dance introducing a new-school shuffle element. With some of the most visually pleasing coordinated group movements, which was only compounded by a thrilling moment as the lights go out and their sneakers light up, this was a literal highlight of SWAG 5.0.
Though this was a hard act to follow, the next k-pop dance did not disappoint – being among the most technically accomplished dances, it pulsed with energy and sharp footwork, the jumps accentuated by their black and white sneakers. The final performance of this section was another personal favourite: thuggish and confident, it stood out even more with two dancers’ delightful embodiment of the Joker and Harley Quinn, oversized grin and baseball bat included.
- Duet: Ed Sheeran and Jay Chou (Angel Cheng and Brandon Pillay)
- Contemporary: Moonlight by the Piano Guys (Nicole Lwi Xiau Ling)
- Shuffle (New School): Y2K and David Guetta (Brandon Pillay and Nicole Lwi Xiau Ling)
- K-pop: Blood, Sweat, Tears by BTS (Kelvin Ang)
- Girlstyle: i hate u, i love u, Flawless, and Work (Remix) (Angel Cheng)
- Dubstep: Purple Lamborghini by Skrillex & Rick Ross (Arthur Barnabas and Jason Koh)
The guest performers were featured last, and here the adage “last but not least” holds strong. First up was Gan Chun Ming, a beatboxer – with a brilliantly choreographed dance-sketch involving two dancers, with a range of hilarious sound effects (think the Nokia ringtone and the sounds of an escalating ball game), not to mention a lip-sync battle to Skrillex’s ‘Cinema’. Next were Slumber Squad, a.k.a. the ‘Korean Oppas of UNMC’, who were finalists in two national dance competitions last year. It wasn’t hard to see why – the seven-person dance troupe, looking slick in their black jackets (the smoke machine helped too!), effectively combined sharp precise movements and tension-building slow-motion with superb coordination. Then came the alumni of NDC, who despite a comparatively less flashy performance, exhibited a seemingly effortless stage presence. Finally, it was Malaysia’s locking champion, Dylan Chyo, who wowed the crowd and held their attention with his showmanship even when he was the only one onstage.
After all this, a mock cheque of RM1500, part of the ticket revenue to be donated to the Brick by Brick project, was presented to a representative from ACE Society.
As the familiar trumpets of ‘September’ by Earth, Wind & Fire began, what was basically an extended curtain call appreciating the choreographers and the committee members unfurled, bringing back snippets of the genres we had witnessed throughout the night. A final encore, prompted by the audience, ended the night on a high note, as BIGBANG’s FXXK IT played for a large dance number that began onstage and spread throughout the Great Hall.
Thus, SWAG 5.0 ended. One can’t help but marvel at the level of organization for an event this size to be run so smoothly, from the clever transitions between dances to the choreographies themselves, no doubt rehearsed over countless hours. At the end of such an exhilarating night, one can only look forward to the next time when the passion and propensity towards movement will set the stage (not literally) on fire again.
By Yee Heng Yeh
Photographs by Malik Hisyam