Jamu (2006) at ASWARA

JAMU II—A Feast For The Senses Review (2006)

It is the second part of a contemporary dance performance series where dance lecturers of the National Arts Academy converge to show their works. The catch phrase for JAMU reads “Feast for the Sense” which carries with it a very strong Malaysian flavour due to the fact that we have always pride ourselves on the multiplicity of our cuisines. Besides, anything that relates to food would no doubt fill the seats. Given that it would be mixture of choreographies and dance styles, one comes with an almost confused sense of expectation. Among the choreographers: three Chinese women, one Indian of celebrity status and a young and upcoming Malay.

‘Berinai’ by A.Aris A. Kadir

The powerful lamenting voice of Fauziah Nawi broke the silence and opened the night’s performance with her ardent prayers. The stage looked very beautiful with rose petals and  ‘pelita’ (oil lamp) lit up in a circle.  The musicians’ stage contributes to the feel of a ‘kampung’ (village) setting. The two dancers were poised gracefully in the centre of the circle. They started to move to the live strumming of a guitar. Actions and movements were executed in unison mimicking the unspoken language of deep love between a man and a woman. They spent a rather long time seated on the floor before standing up. Still remaining on the spot, the gestures then got bigger as they involved more body parts. Meanwhile rose petals dropped from above as their leg movements stirred up the arranged petals on the floor, as if stirring up havoc. The energy kept rising from there and it never descended. The percussion joined in, the singing became more enlivened and the dancers got up to move out of the rose petal circle. Energizing this change was, however the altered dynamics broke the harmonious beauty that everything was cautiously upholding up till then. This was because the beauty of ‘Berinai’ lies in the serenity of the piece—amidst private moments of a newly wed couple. He was apprehensive; she was shy. They both permeate a reserved quality that is synonymous to traditional Malays. When they explore bigger movements together, one gets lost in the flinging gestures and at some points, it felt like this couple might very well be having a hard time getting along well.

The bridal costume is very elegant but it does not look good with big and swaying movements are big because then it makes the dance look messy with the excessive clothing. Perhaps traditional costumes are not appropriate for contemporary dance moves—try picturing a modern dancer performing an explosive contemporary dance piece in a tight-fitting cheongsam. Some things just do not fit together. Whilst the moves have been modernized, so must the costume be modified to accommodate the alteration. The traditional elements of this dance performance still far outshine the contemporary artistic creations. It would be much more desirable when both traditional and contemporary dance elements in this dance piece are brought to a harmonious equilibrium. But then again, who says that contemporary modern dance is all about harmony?

‘Qi, Research 1’ by Mew Chang Tsing

Before the show began, Mew had kicked off her performance by walking into the crowd at the waiting room, blindfolded. Curious onlookers stopped their chitchatting to watch as this dancer groped her way around. According to Mew, she was absorbing the energy of the people who would be watching her show later on. Her piece is about exploration; clearly an experimental activity yet with a distinct goal to gain circumstantial knowledge about performing with Qi. The result was unknown both to the performer and the audience, the process, unpredictable. Mew claimed that given these two ungoverned factors, the gain would still be invaluable.

Throughout the whole piece, there was no apparent visual connection with the audience, yet it appeared that Mew was very aware of her surroundings. She entered the stage when the crew was busy clearing the props of the previous performance yet she did not trip over anyone or anything. Her movements were improvised according to the fluctuations of energy she felt. She used very basic movements, which did not require much technical prowess on the dancer’s part. To someone foreign to the dance vocabulary, she was merely walking, tumbling, falling and finding her way around.

The strength of this piece lied in the ability of Mew to pull all her improvised acts together into a formidable performance, while invoking the philosophy behind dance and performance. Questions are compelled: What is performance? Is it necessary for a dancer to maintain eye contact with the audience at all? Is it necessary to engage or even acknowledge the audience in order for a performance to earn its name? Just because the dancer could not see the audience does not mean that she is not engaging them in her performance. For what Mew did could not be produced without the presence of a group of spectators. She was playing not with tangibility, but with the invisible elements of Qi, the energy connecting every single person in the theatre.

‘Social-Dance’ by Gan Chih Pei

Happy social dancing it was not as the title might suggest, but a piece conveying extreme loneliness and isolation in the world we are trapped in. Someone was dancing by himself. Two girls came in. Then another. Their movements were at times in unison, at times taken apart.  Their costumes were lavish, hairdos absurd, faces thickly powdered and overtly-drawn; everything was overdone, if not as it would appear in a normal society. In fact, the characters appear doll-like with their rigid expression, almost expressionless and undistinguishable of human.

A satire against the show we put up in order to be accepted by the social norm. An extravagant appearance, but all empty inside. The movements were mundane, repetitive, deliberately stiff and lifeless as they mirror the way we go about our everyday lives. The routine we mindlessly engage ourselves in without imbuing life into it. In addition, the postmodern music by Philip Glass, repetition of a simple music theme over and over again as well as Tom Wait’s experimental and bizarre combination of strange instrumentation tell of a surrealism quite peculiar to the Malaysian audience. The video installation of a normal daily routine casts a contrast to the ambience on the dance stage, and consequently aggravates the feeling of disengagement and isolation that permeates this piece. The whole dance was promptly summarized in the quote “Sometimes, when we are not alone, yet we are lonely”.

‘Thought of the Day’ by Loke Soh Kim

Loke’s piece is my favourite of all five that night as I felt it is artistically the most matured. The dancing was confident, the singing nonchalant and the lighting exact. The idea for the choreography was as simple as a thought of the day. Something unexpected reflected upon, something unforeseen gained. Loke’s dancing was improvisational—her flinging of arms and her playing with balance. Clearly, Loke was a very strong dancer, physically and mentally. Her focus was not once perturbed as she flowed through her movements. It was an introvert performance as there was no eye contact neither by her nor Goh. Throughout the piece, he was just sitting there, murmuring a sad song over and over again while casting a very forlorn figure. At the end of the three-day-show, Goh even shaved his hair to the astonishment of the audience though he might have to finish the rest offstage.

It was a great improvisation performance within the framework of appreciation shown towards generosity. As the singing became more desperate and emotional, so did the movements. From a spotlight focused on Loke to a streak of light creating a passage upon which Loke would then dance through, whilst Goh indulged in his own performance under a dim light, the mutual understanding of these three artists shone through the piece with their creation of work playing upon one another.

‘INDIGO—Into Dance I Go’ by Umesh Shetty

Clearly the most popular piece among the audience for its dynamism, acrobatic movements and heart-skipping tempo, INDIGO shoved them to the edge of their seats and robbed their applauses away. This piece had a story to tell, a dance combining traditional and modern dance movements whilst played to the electronica and big beat rock music of Propellerhead. The student dancers employed were of high caliber—their timing was exact, the elevation high enough and their attack strong. The choreography was equally exciting with traditional Indian and Malay dance elements injected into contemporary style. It was just the right dance piece to end a sumptuous evening of dance performance.

JAMU is an annual dance production that aims to provide a space for the lecturers to continue to produce creative works and expand their horizons. ASWARA is committed to improving the standards of choreography and the professionalism in the performing arts in the country. JAMU also gives the opportunity for the dancers/students to get into the creative space with their lecturers and ask questions to understand the process even further.
A Selection From JAMU (2005, 2008, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019) is posted in https://www.facebook.com/aswara.edu/ on 21 November 2020
For the full video, please head on over to the YouTube Channel of the Faculty of Dance ASWARA: Tari_aswara

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