By Revathi Murugappan
We’ve heard it before (and will continue to hear it). Man fed up with world full of greedy phony people engrossed by money, property and status; man infuriated with local entertainment scene glorifying commercial aspects and worshipping western values with total disregard for artistic values, pride of race, and aesthetics.
Man cannot stand it anymore. Enough is enough! It’s time to react and voice out these feelings of exasperation. Man combines with similarly frustrated minds to make statement in dance form while questioning integrity of Malays.
This is the premise of Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s latest contemporary dance offering (1 – 4 Dec 2005), aptly called Lalak (Screaming One’s Heart Out). Five emerging choreographers: Syed Mustapha Syed Yasin, Hamid Chan, Junainah M Lojong (all three being Akademi Seni Kebangsaan graduates), Zulkifli Mohamad and Jasni Abdul Hamid collaborated with the Kumpulan Kesenian DBKL to showcase their feelings.
In some works, the message slaps you across the face, in others it is so inconspicuous you couldn’t tell if they are screaming their lungs out or bottling their unhappiness and accepting that things will not change. A few worth mentioning:
Jasni starts the ball rolling with his Butoh-like movements in “Episod Hanuman,” from the Indian epic Ramayana. From the beginning, the solo lacks clarity and rasa. With a title like that, I expected the piece to relate to the monkey god Hanuman, symbolised in Hinduism for his unwavering dedication to righteousness, unstinting performance of entrusted duties, and unfailing talents in serving his master Rama. But Jasni’s work shows no resemblance to this. What is evident though, is that the soul is in conflict with itself, not knowing which path to take. Whether the good and the bad finally conquers is anyone’s wild guess.
His other group piece “Argo-Gede” proves more interesting. Obviously, the dancers are on a voyage, admiring the scenic view en-route to their destination. Again, like his earlier work, this could have been explored much more. The choreography stays on the same tone throughout with not much excitement.
Winner of the 2003 Boh Cameronian Award for Best Choreographer, Syed is simply a delight in his light-hearted solo, “Celaru.” Unlike his earlier testosterone-filled “Om Bak,” which saw some energetic dancing by the group, this takes a completely different approach.
Exploring the issue of transvestitism, he is in his element as he ripples his body and flirts audaciously with the audience. Boy, can he move suggestively! Plenty of sexual innuendoes emerge as he experiments with different wigs. Is he confused, trapped or is he trying out something new? Another facet of this acquisitive world?
The theme from James Bond takes over and in strut four (or was it five) investigators, dressed in their black best, trench coats, hats, carrying briefcases. It appears at first like a plot to corner the transvestite. But alas, the macho hunks drop their bags, rip off their clothes, unzip their briefcases and set out to dress themselves in women’s clothing! Syed meanwhile, has changed back to his male clothing and appears extremely confused. While admonishing us not to judge a book by its wig, it is also a brilliant way to suggest that today’s world is filled with masquerading people.
Another worthy mention is Hamid Chan’s “Parui Ku,” which blends an East Malaysian flavour to it. A paddy farmer, working hard even after the moon is out, he is unperturbed by evils and western influences. Despite the falsities and luring of greener pastures, he succeeds in being a happy farmer, toiling away to reap the rewards of his labour. However, while the dance is pleasing and the music haunting, the process of how he manages to retain his sanctity is foggy. In Zulkifli’s “JJJ: Jadi Jawa Jawi,” the choreographic objective is somewhat blur. I couldn’t grasp any meaning from it (ok, maybe I’m blur) so I try to enjoy the movements alone. However, something is deficient here as the dancers show the contemporariness mechanically as if they cannot give two hoots about what others think. The chemistry among the dancers is watery. Perhaps Zulkifli’s intention is to portray the world as a cold, stiff place.
Junainah uses body language and a multimedia presentation to voice out her dialogue in her solo, “Untitled I – Suara Tubuh.” A video of the respiratory system starts playing in the background as she gropes and struggles to breathe in this world. Panting, almost gasping for fresh air in this polluted environment, her body cries to stop and yet, she has no control over outside forces and concedes eventually. It is indeed a literal piece of work using repetitive choreography, and kept extremely short. Perhaps the brevity conveys that human nature is such; there’s only so much and so long one can fight against something. The fruits of your championing may not loom in this lifetime.
In her duet, “Untitled II – Wanita” (yes, Junainah has a tendency to call most of her works Untitled), Junainah uses a woman’s sexuality to articulate that indeed, this is a selling point for the fairer sex (oh heck, even for the males these days).
Like in the real world, there is one leader and a (younger) follower. The follower learns but occasionally leads and challenges the leader. Credit must be given to Junainah, who by the way is expecting her first child, and her partner, Intan Suhani (first time performing contemporary dance), for being able to carry this out effectively, with femininity, grace and coy giggles.
They explore the issue further and in a fleeting moment of desperately wanting to bare it all, they strip their sarongs to reveal their tights. The discovery doesn’t last too long. Upon realising their vulnerability at being exposed this way, they become uncomfortable. The ‘Asian’ values ingrained in them take over and just as quickly; they put their sarongs back on. Still, there is a flash of hesitance as they shoot each other a puzzled glance. What if…
Technically speaking, this is one of the better performances from the DBKL dancers, even though the movement vocabulary is kept simple, uncomplicated and not totally contemporary (in the Western sense). After all, in the Malaysian context, anything can be called contemporary. Even walking across from downstage to upstage can be deemed contemporary. Jasni, DBKL’s resident choreographer reveals that it took them a month of hard work to put the show together. And it has paid off. Given the chance to work with different choreographers, the dancers are able to articulate their bodies better and show a wider range of expressions.
At the end of the day, you can scream and protest with all your might but it takes a lot for a man to remain true to himself and to his roots. More likely than not, Lalak shows that he often succumbs to temptation. Admittedly, wealth plays a dominant factor in this man-eat-man world. What then, is the solution, if there is one?
Revathi teaches pilates, yoga, jazz, tap, aerobics, journalism, and everything else. And she writes too.
First Published: 21.12.2005 on Kakiseni