By Juliet Jacobs
Besides guiding, training and inspiring young minds towards greater things, the lovely folks at ASWARA have also been at the forefront of preserving our Malaysian arty traditions. The dance department at ASWARA continues with this very own tradition of theirs, in “Asyik.”
Co-choreographer Wong Kit Yaw tells more about this simple, yet mesmerizing dance drama.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in a small town in Kampar. I studied and trained professionally at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore. I am single and available. I turned 50 this year — the same as Malaysia, though all my friends say I look 35! I travel everywhere by bus, taxi, commuter and LRT.
Who or what made you first fall in love with dance?
When I was in Standard 2, I was roped in to perform for the school concert, and I was bitten! I used to enjoy watching the seniors dancing and I really loved all the costumes, music and dance.
How did you first get involved in the local dance scene?
I was a member of the Chinese-Hokkien Association in Form 5 and they performed a lot. But after that I went to Singapore to work in a construction company.
Tell us about some of your more memorable or favourite projects from the past.
The time I represented Singapore at an International Dance Festival for Cultural Exchange in Denver City, Colorado was very memorable for me.
Another project that I really loved was when I worked with solo dancer Tan Suk Ling to create a full-length performance at the Temple near Stadium Merdeka. It was beautiful because I used the pillars and the ornate architecture in my choreography. It was one of the earliest explorations in site-specific work in Malaysia in the ’80s.
Do you have a day job? Tell us a bit more about what you do.
Teaching and choreographing dance is my day and night job! It is my love, my passion and my hobby.
Tell us more about ASWARA’s production of “Asyik”. It is a showcase of classical dance repertoire, yes? Why classical?
The idea is to promote all kinds of classical forms of dance. Before this, we had presented ”Tapestry” and “Jendela” as our traditional shows, but those saw us working more with folk dance styles.
Of course, ASWARA also presents Makyung, Bangsawan, Randai and Wayang Kulit. This time Joseph Gonzales’s idea is to focus on classical dance styles, and I agree because we need to expose the audience to all the different styles, so that they learn to appreciate the beauty of each.
Can you give us a brief rundown on the origins of the “Asyik” dance?
Actually Asyik is the name of a dance from Kelantan but here the name was chosen by Joseph because the meaning is to be mesmerized and fascinated — almost like going into a trance.
That is what it feels like when you dance and even when you watch the show.
You are one of the choreographers in this production, yes? What have you and the rest of the gang put together for us?
The script and the original flow was decided by Joseph, but all of the choreographers contribute ideas to make the performance smoother and more interesting to the audience.
We look at the entrance and exits of the dances, the story-line and the music, and we see how to blend everything into one performance, and not just present it piece by piece.
You’ve worked on both professional and student productions, yes? What is it like working with students, as opposed to the “pro’s”? Who gives you more of a headache?
I feel that there is no difference, because in both cases, we need to teach.
The students at ASWARA are however very busy with classes, exams and assignments, so it is sometimes easier to manage the professionals, who can arrange their own time-tables.
It might take longer to teach the students who are slower but that is normal and to be expected.
That said, sometimes everyone gives me a headache and sometimes no one gives me a headache! It all depends on their attitude and how much they want to learn – not on whether they are a student or a professional.
And what has it been like working with the students involved in “Asyik” in particular?
It’s been fine, I enjoy working with them because I know them so well. I recently worked with the Theatre Department also on “Si Yatim Chao” which was very interesting. Of course, the standard of the Dance Department is getting higher, so our choreography can also be more complicated and challenging.
Any funny or strange stories from rehearsals to share?
No — but the students are always funny!
What has the whole “Asyik” experience been like, for you?
Very good because all the teachers and students are like one big family — we eat together and work together. Real muhibbah! No politics.
Who or what inspires you? Everything, every place and everyone! What’s irony to you?
Aiyooo….l don’t understand-lah!! (Joseph’s two cents: Who would have thought that a construction worker can turn into a dance educator!)
What are you up to next?
I am going on holiday to China!!
“Asyik” will play at the Experimental Theatre, ASWARA from Fri 14 – Sun 16 Dec 2007 (8.30pm; with additional 3pm shows on Sat & Sun). Tickets are at RM20 and RM10 (concessions).
First Published: 13.12.2007 on Kakiseni