By Prof Dr Mohd Anis Md Nor
Joseph Gonzales’s Choreography: A Malaysian Perspective is the first local publication on Choreographic discourse on Malaysian dance that is written by a Malaysian and dedicated to readers in Malaysia and abroad. It is certainly refreshing and invigorating to know that an indigenous writer who is well known in the Malaysian dance scene as a dance educator, choreographer and dancer, has given his precious time to write this handsome volume, even while endearing his talents and knowledge to the development of dance studies in the National Arts Academy. Published by the National Arts Academy, Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage with Pustaka Cipta Sdn. Bhd. as the publishing consultant, this volume is attractively produced with colour plates of dancers and dance pieces, reader-friendly layout and text that is both engaging and informative. Eloquently written with simple and amiable words, the often formidable term ‘Choreography’ is effortlessly introduced, explained and constructed in seven chapters.
This book introduces the Conceptual framework of Choreography as the premise in framing the writer’s perception of how dance is engaged and woven into the fabric of presentation and performance. This was construed from a broad perception of evolving movements from established norms and trials of engaging movements from prose to poetry. It deals with processes rather than product through formulation of framed arrangements and compositions. By deliberately connecting local works and local artists as points of reference, Joseph Gonzales is able to localise the constructs of choreographic processes within the familiarity of Malaysian dancescapes as he sustains the global constructs of modern and post-modern dances. Essential elements in Choreography such as dynamics, space, dance form, theme, music, scenography and artistic impact are lucidly presented couched within the recognisable individuals, artists and dancers who have greatly contributed to Malaysia’s performance arts.
The author interjected a chronology of contemporary Malaysian dance history in Chapter 2 to situate the contributions of dance personalities from the days of the Bangsawan to the present. In spite of the briefness of this section, this chapter gives a glimpse into post-colonial Malaysia’s dance history that positions the questions on where one begins a choreographic quest, which is further discussed in Chapter 3. The third Chapter is laced with points and counterpoints based on issues of personal experiences, literature, culture, music, muse, environment and politics, indigenous ideas, property and techniques. However, such myriad issues may warrant better cohesion as this Chapter is less discursive than the previous Chapters. The placements of points listed in abbreviation in between short narratives have disrupted the seemingly continuous uninterrupted flow that is presented in the two previous Chapters.
Nevertheless, the jagged presentation in Chapter 3 resumes its inherent flow and fluidity in the following Chapters. In Chapter 4, the author discusses on movement manipulations where Choreography is explored against a backdrop of improvisations and the mechanics of staging the dynamics of choreography. These imprints are comparatively appraised in Chapter 5 when the author discusses examples from musical theatres and post-modern Choreography with the likes of West Side Story, Cats, The King and I and other local productions. The trajectory on the crafts of Choreography, which frames the discussions from Chapter 1 ends with this Chapter.
Henceforth, the author begins to look into issues of dance as a professional career in the following Chapter. Not mincing his words, Joseph Gonzales lays bare the reality of dance profession in this country either within State-sponsored companies or individual and independent dancers or dance companies. The debacles of poor funding and sponsorship, the non inclusion of dance as required studies in Malaysian schools, racially polarised support groups and audience alike, and the difficulties of situating dance as economically sound enterprise, are some of the issues highlighted. Yet, like many dance educators who are not dispirited with the lack of tangible interest in dance by the State, Joseph Gonzales goes to explicate the successes of many dancers and choreographers who have made their names in the local and international arena.
In his final Chapter, Joseph Gonzales vindicated the deficiency of an overall national programme for dance by writing brief biographies of who’s who in Malaysian dance scene, perhaps as a tribute to the national dance icons or as a homage to fellow dancers who have all shared the tribulations and challenges in their quests to make dance as their profession in this country. They include names like Lee Lee Lan, Dr. Mohd Ghouse Nasuruddin, Wong Fook Cheon, Ramli Ibrahim, Marion D’ Cruz, Ramli Ali, Wong Kit Yaw, Suhaimi Magi, Vincent Tan Lian Ho, husband and wife Choo Tee Kuang and Lake Soh Kim, Lena Ang Swee Lin, Guna, Lee Swee Keong, Mew Chang Tsing, Anthony Meh, Aida Redza, and of course, Joseph Gonzales himself. This is indeed one of the jewels in this publication, a tribute to dance makers who themselves danced as they mentored others to continue dancing.
Choreography: A Malaysian Perspective is an impressive attempt by Joseph Gonzales to write on dance in Malaysia through the lenses of Choreography. In spite of some minor publication misplacements such as the absence of a standard bibliographical citing and end notes, this volume is now inscribed in the annals of Malaysian dance writings as a pioneering work on Choreography written by a Malaysian from a Malaysian perspective. This publication will remain to challenge new dance writers to publish more works on dance in Malaysia.
First Published: 06.10.2004 on Kakiseni