Forces to be Reckoned With

I consider the Second MyDance Festival as one of the highlights for dance in the year 2003. It showcased 23 dance pieces from all over Malaysia over 3 nights; warts and all. It checks the “temperature” of dance in Malaysia. Any choreographer or dancer worth his/her salt would not want to miss being a part of this event. Having witnessed all 3 nights I of course have my favourite pieces.

In no particular order of preference the first piece I would choose is Rasuk choreographed by Syed Mustapha Syed Yasin and performed by the Tandak Dance Theatre. I saw this piece first performed on the Sutra stage earlier in the year and feel that it performed better on that stage than it did in The Actors Studio. The issues it dealt with: possession/obsession, the act of entering and exiting these states, and the blurring of the real and the unreal, was better suited to the otherworldly Sutra stage than the clearly defined lines and walls of a “real’ stage. What did I like about this piece? That it dealt with an issue (possession) that is seldom even admitted to in Malay society today because of increasing “sanitisation” in that society. The piece didn’t condone or condemn, it merely examined – not in a clinical manner – but in a very visceral way the act of possession and obsession. It was well executed by very competent dancers who managed to create that other world inspite of the “clean lines” of the The Actors Studio Bangsar theatre. Finally I must admit that water on stage does things to me…

The Bharata Natyam solo Ashtapadi choreographed by Ajit Bhaskaran Dass from Johore was a gem. I was elated by the beautifully executed performance by Ajit and I liked it because it could hold its own on the international stage. It is always nice when Malaysia really can Boleh!

War In Iraq choreographed by Marion D’Cruz was memorable. Why? It dealt with a current issue (I admit I am partial to this sort of thing… OK, shoot me! I am so 70s!) and the image of that little girl skipping over the bodies is unforgettable. And this is what performance is about to me – presenting images on stage that never ever leave you, that leap out at you at the oddest times, grab you by your gut and bring tears to your worldweary eyes.

Hoi Cheng Sim in Distance was wonderful to watch. Her duet with Lin Chih Sheng which explored the physical and psychological distance between couples was beautifully executed. It was not necessarily the best thing I saw at the festival – it could have been technically better, thematically it lacked depth in contrast and drama but nevertheless I appreciated Miss Hoi’s obvious talent both as a dancer and choreographer. Watch out for this young lady. She is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

I can’t say I “enjoyed” Penusing Sinui (Circle of Life) choreographed by Jasni Abdul Hamid and performed by Adikara Dance Theatre. The world of this piece was not somewhere I wanted to be. It was a slow-caked-with­ mud world where everyone seemed to be looking at something just beyond my range of vision; it was just too disturbing; it got under my skin. And for this reason it succeeded. Mr. Jasni managed to create a whole world beyond our experience which we both saw and heard (at points there was no music, only the sounds created by the dancers and their props). Kudos to Mr. Jasni for choreographing a piece that is hard to forget.

Suhami Magi’s offering to the festival Ubah, performed by Sri Panggung was one of the most humourous pieces at the festival. It could have been shorter but I loved his deconstruction of the traditional piring dance. The movement of the piece, from a controlled, structured world into a slow, careening deconstructed one which culminated in utter chaos with dancers shattering bowls on stage, was like being at a formula one race watching cars crash in slow motion. Lovely!

Finally, I have seen My Teacher choreographed by Choo Tee Kuang twice now and I can’t help liking it. The choreographer pokes fun at the teacher, which he himself is, at dancers which he also is and finally at us for taking it all so seriously. The final touch of the dancer’s child (in this case Mew Chang Tsing’s very own daughter) appearing on stage puts everything in perspective. Isn’t the ultimate creative act the creation of a child?

What can I say about the festival as a whole? Firstly it was heartening to see so many talented young dancers coming to the fore: Hoi Cheng Sim, Shafirul Azmi Suhami to name two. These young people from Akademi Seni Kebangsaan and other companies are dynamite. They have good technique, know both traditional and contemporary dance, and are taking a turn at choreography. I would say the future of Malaysian dance is promising.

I would also like to see more companies or individuals doing traditional dance take part in the festival. So far it appears that only traditionally trained Indian dancers are doing so. What about Malay and Chinese dancers? Can we see more of these in the next festival?

I would say that a larger proportion of the pieces presented at this year’s festival were of a higher quality – both choreographically and in terms of the performers, many more of whom were technically more competent.

And finally the festival is a microcosm of Malaysian society with regards to the themes that were dealt with. They were as wide-ranging as our people are. They reflected the concerns of individuals and ethnic groups, and at the same time had a universal ring to them. In addition to this I feel the MyDance festival represents the kind of diversity that Malaysian society ought to be. All too often festivals in Malaysia tend to deal with and speak to only one ethnic group, even the ones organised by the government, as though we are living in colonial Malaya under the British who practiced a policy of divide and rule. The MyDance festival is different. I say Vive le difference!

First Published: 07.01.2004 on Kakiseni

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