By Juliet Jacobs
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, and I’ve loved the creative arts since I was a child. I started dancing when I was 20 years old, and I got involved in Butoh a few years later, after meeting the first Malaysian butoh dancer, Lena Ang — who is currently based in New York. Some years later, I started getting involved in theatre productions.
You co-founded Nyoba & Dancers, a butoh-inflected dance group, which was later renamed Nyoba Dance +. It is now called Nyoba Kan. Why the name change?
The world changes every day, so why not my company’s name? I changed it to ‘Kan’ when I studied butoh in Japan because I found them to be very inspiring.
Aside from that, it just sounds cool.
We envy how truly comfortable you are with your body, which is obviously put to good use in your performances. Tell us more about the ‘harmony between the spiritual and physical selves’ that you seek to explore.
That’s a very interesting question. Not many people would have the sense to know that these two are connected. This is about the ‘chi’ or the flow of energy within yourself and the cosmos, through the study of dancing, tai-chi and yoga.
Right. How do you stay so fit? Any gruelling regimes that you follow?
A disciplined and healthy lifestyle. I do yoga and dance every day.
We’ve read that you like to create experimental performances, focusing on the twisted and the illogical. Give us some insight into your work.
It is only through going for the extreme that we can hope to find the truth.
The Curse of the Forbidden Palace, Nyoba-Kan’s latest, is based on the dramatic life story of Empress Dowager Ci Xi, a concubine-turned-despot who is considered responsible for the downfall of Imperial China. Why a performance based on this historical character?
Because she was such a brave and creative woman.
The Qing Dynasty outfits were so beautiful and that was also part of the inspiration.
It is going to be a multi-disciplinary performance, yes? Tell us what we can expect.
Please do not expect anything. Relax lah. Open your mind, and you will enjoy it.
How has it been, working with Caecar Chong, Kiea Kuan Nam and the rest of the cast in this production? Any juicy factoids you’d like to share?
There’s a sex scene involving one of the performers …
What was a typical rehearsal for Curse of the Forbidden Palace like? Do you torture the rest of the cast and crew?
Of course. Like I mentioned before, it is only through extremes that we can hope to find the truth.
What is the most provocative thing you’ve done on stage?
I urinated onstage for Coffin of Rejuvenation, in 1999 at Actors Studio, Dataran Merdeka. The police wanted to stop the show.
Have you ever been told off by an audience member over a previous performance?
You spent five weeks in Japan, last year, on an Arts Network Asia grant to study butoh. How was the whole experience?
Well, it made me change the name of my company …
Any personal rituals that you must follow before a performance?
I make three “Om” sounds, and meditate.
Who or what inspires you?
What’s irony to you?
Butoh and ballet.
What are you up to, next?
I’ll be doing The Tell-Tale Heart, directed by Gavin Yap at KLPac, at the end of the month. Then I want to restage Butterfly Lovers.
First Published: 05.04.2007 on Kakiseni