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In The Year of The Flood

  • By Azwan Ismail
  • December 31, 2003

By Pang Khee Teik

After the Cameronian Arts Awards, I thought there might be an outpouring of original scripts. But it wasn’t so. There was quite a number of restaging, notably: Jit Murad’s Visits and Spilt Gravy on Rice by Dramalab, The 2nd First Annual Bolehwood Awards 2003: Directors Cut by the Instant Café Theatre, Huzir Sulaiman’s Atomic Jaya by Straits Theatre Company and Syed Alwi’s Alang Rentak Seribu by lstana Budaya. Mention should go to Akademi Seni Kebangsaan for reviving Zakaria Ariffin’s script, Jangan Bunuh Sam, getting it directed by Nam Ron, and then bringing it to Perlis, Pahang, Kedah, Terengganu, and Sarawak.

As for new works, Five Arts Centre came up with Seven 10, featuring supposedly ten-minute plays by Leow Puay Tin, Charlene Rajendran, Huzir Sulaiman, Jit Murad, Jo Kukathas, Alfian Sa’at and Mark Teh; Singapore’s Teater Ekamatra gave us Projek Suitcase, which featured monologues by Feisal Tehrani and Nam Ron; and lstana Budaya presented Anuar Nor Arai’s Ronggeng Rokiah. Then there were some indie efforts with original scripts by Arun Subramaniam, Andre D’Cruz, Dina Zaman and Cameronian nominee Mark Beau de Silva with the cutely titled The Pimple Years.

Instant Café Theatre organised an important but poorly publicised and poorly attended forum called Raise the Roof, which featured discussions about censorship, criticism and the art of making art. Out of this sprung the outstanding workshop performance of newbie Ridzwan Othman’s Flies and Foreigners. Chinese theatre was strong with original works as well as adapted works, culminating in a festival Pesta Drama 2003 by Pingstage held at the Chinese Assembly Hall; most of the shows are nominated for Pingstage’s Chinese Theatre Awards. Famous visiting shows include The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), and the less publicised, but perhaps superior The Double Bass by Patrick Suskind.

313 Music Performances

Naturally the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas and No Black Tie together account for almost half of these performances. Of the former, we had visits by legends: Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra with conductor Herbert Blomstedt, violinist Vadim Repin, and conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, even if they have not significantly increased in their intakes of local musicians, managed to start a workshop for local composers. A showcase is primed for March 2004.

NBT remains the champion of the eclectic, with everything from latin jazz to underground rock to folk. One of their more important contributions is the Songwriters Round, organised by Pete Teo, who released his album Rustic Living for Urbanites to great acclaim. Fellow Sabahan Roger Wang and saxophonist Greg Lyons also released albums.

The Rainforest World Music Festival, by the Sarawak Tourism Board continued to draw great acts from obscure corners of the world, and has to be the coolest festival organised by a government body. The National Symphony Orchestra, now a fixture of lstana Budaya, celebrated its 10th Anniversary in March.

Meanwhile, Aspects of Broadway, winner of the Kakiseni Audience Award 2003, enlarged their fanbase with shows all over KL and is in danger of winning the award the second year.

84 Dance Performances

It’s been said that Dance is one of the most progressive of the arts in Malaysia. In 2003, they took their progress all over Malaysia with touring shows: Joseph Gonzales of Akademi Seni Kebangsaan with his didactic piece AWAS, Ramli Ibrahim with the Malaysia ODISSI Tour, and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Arts with the ASEAN Festival of Arts, presenting cultural shows from every South East Asian country as part of the Inaugural Meeting of ASEAN Ministers Responsible For Culture and Arts. Sounds like a nice support group: “Hi, my name is Sheik, yes, I am responsible. I promise it won’t happen again.”

The very successful Dance Box series died with The Actors Studio Box but it was made good at the second MyDance Festival. In a genuinely inspired move, four Malaysian choreographers now based in Holland (Ng Teck Voon), Hong Kong (Ong Yong Lock), and Singapore (Albert Tiong and Ix Wong), were invited back to present a dance each at Homecoming, staged at the Chinese Assembly Hall in December.

Japan Foundation also funded collaborations between Malaysian and Japanese dancers in Spring in KL, as well as the patronising Prism. Lee Swee Keong continued to stump critics and audiences alike with The Last Empress and A Cherry Bludgeoned, A Spirit Crushed. Befuddled folks then rushed to Riverdance, where things were much easier to understand.

196 Film Screenings

The film listings on Kakiseni comprise mostly of foreign language films or art films screened at GSC International screens, Sobranie Classics (formerly Filmnet), Help Institute (utilised by Kelab Seni Filem), Asia Europe Institute Auditorium, and Alliance Francaise (which used to be free, but has started charging membership).

GSC had a few film festivals, held in conjunction with national events like the NAM conference and the OIC meeting. The last one gave us the Women in the Art of Cinema of Islamic Nations Film Festival that screened shows like Sayang Salmah and Perempuan Melayu Terakhir.

Help Institute and Kelab Seni, which presents lesser known (but great) films, have been ardent supporters of local indie works. Sobranie also slots the occasional Malaysian indie film amidst their popular foreign hits.

Films not funded by the government but have travelled around the world include James Lee’s Room to Let, Hann’s First Take Final Cut, YuHang’s Min, Yasmin Ahmad’s Rabun and Amir Muhammad’s The Big Durian, now official entry at the Sundance Festival. As a result of efforts by James and Bernard Chauly, this year saw a spurt in short films, mostly screened at Help Institute. Amir Muhammad’s 6horts inspired many of them, even the bad ones.

266 Exhibitions

While theatre practitioners are lamenting the lack of performing spaces, artists have a plethora galleries all over the city and the country. In fact, every hotel lounge and community service multipurpose hall wants to be a gallery too. Could there be more art galleries than art viewers? The problem remains that many galleries lie in far flung corners: from Reka Art Space in Kelana Jaya (run by Five Arts Centre actor-director Chee Sek Thim) to Rimbun Dahan in Sungai Buloh (run by architect Hijjaz Kasturi and wife). Looks like you must own a car to appreciate art. Or are artists just hermits by nature?

Some of the more active galleries are National Art Gallery, Valentine Willie Fine Art, Sutra House, NN Gallery, Galeri Taksu, Galeri Tangsi, Badan Warisan, Reka Art Space, and Galeri Petronas, which celebrated its 10th Anniversary in February. The Australian High Commission granted a visual arts residency to local artist cum film art director Yee I-Lann.

There were also 37 Courses, the majority being provided by The Actors Studio Academy, with their classes on everything from Acting for Beginners to Indonesian Folk Dance Workshop to Stilts Walking. (By the way, the truth is: Kakiseni doesn’t list many courses because we charge. But it’s not much. Give us a call and find out. Support the arts!)

The 24 Book Events consisted mostly of readings and book launches, significantly, a collection of essays by public intellectual Farish Noor, at Silverfish Books. The Bangsar-based bookstore also published Nineteen: A Collection of Short Stories by Women, Silverfish New Writings 3 and Huzir Sulaiman’s 8 Plays. Two new books important in their contribution to the arts scene in Malaysia are Krishen Jit: An Uncommon Position, and Freedom of Expression in the Arts. The only people I know who have read the two books are from the Special Branch. Skoob Books, run by veteran theatre practitioner Thor Kah Hoang, moved from Brickfields to Menara Mutiara Majestic, PJ Old Town.

Among the 46 Talks this year were Mughal Influence on Modern Jewellery at the Islamic Art Museum, Repositioning the Ethnic Music of Sarawak Borneo in a Global Soundscape at Crowne Plaza Riverside Hotel in Kuching, Workshop on Selling Malaysian Shows Abroad at The Actors Studio Bangsar, and Our Writers, Our People – Exploring Malaysian-Singaporean Literature in English at The Actors Studio Greenhall in Penang. The last one was organised by writer-actor-director Himanshu Bhatt, and I hope he brings it down to KL too.

Apart from Krishen Jit directing Singaporean productions and Spilt Gravy on Rice going down to Singapore, most of the other Malaysian Abroad entries were of local films being screened at International Film Festivals. I suspect we have many more Malaysian artists exiled overseas, self-imposed or otherwise. Anyone know one? Care to invite them back for a project? Tell them the system still suck, and they need to rescue us.


The Cameronian Arts Awards in February proved to be an event long overdue. While there were problems in dealing with genres and such, it was agreed that everybody who won deserved to win, especially Krishen Jit for Lifetime Achievement Award. Who’s ready for the next one?

Then in June: the flood at Dataran Merdeka. It knocked the breath out of me when I heard the news. Many gathered in an incredible show of camaraderie and waded through sewage and mud to help The Actors Studio and Dama Studio salvage their properties. Millions of dollars and years of hardwork gone, just like that. The good news is that Dama has found a new home and The Actors Studio is now building a three-theatre complex that will probably take our breaths away again.

Unhappy that they didn’t manage to dampen the arts scene with the flood, DBKL issued strict guidelines for performances. The struggle against these guidelines is being waged by some of our veterans in cohorts with upcoming young ones. This struggle will be carried forth into the new year and is bound to make 2004 interesting as well. Some things may not change. But one thing for sure, you can’t drown passion.

“Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost.” – Isak Dinesen

First Published: 31.12.2003 on Kakiseni