Monday, January 24, 2005

(D) October 2, 2003 - Diversity in Motion

DANCE writing in Malaysian newspapers is deplorable!” lamented Krishen Jit as I sunk lower into my seat.

“Are there any journalists in this room?” A sole hand went up hesitantly amidst the murmurs and snickers in the seminar room – mine. “You may chose to leave if you don’t want to stay because what I am about to say is not going to be very nice,” he continued with a smile.

Wearing a made-in-Malaysia bullet-proof-vest that goes by the brand name “MyThickSkin,” I chose to stay. After all, I was determined to listen to the issues of dance in Malaysia to satisfy my interest and curiosity about the subject.

The Diversity in Motion seminar at Universiti Malaya was held on Sept 27, nearing the end of the week-long MyDance Festival 2003 in Kuala Lumpur. Krishen was amongst the heavyweights of the performing arts fraternity presenting papers on various topics - the others included Dr Mohd Anis Md Nor, Professor of Ethnochoreology and Ethnomusicology at Universiti Malaya, Ramli Ibrahim, artistic director of Sutra Dance Theatre, Mew Chang Tsing, Principal of RiverGrass Dance Theatre, and Marion D’Cruz, founder member of Five Arts Centre.

The papers presented during the seminar were biased towards contemporary dance in Malaysia. They were Dance Research: Transference and Reconstruction in Contemporary Malaysian Dance, Indigenous Ideas and Contemporary Fusions: The Making of Malaysian Contemporary Dance, Chinese Contemporary Dance in Malaysia, Writing About Dance in Malaysian Newspapers, Contemporary Dance in Malaysia: What is it? and Collaborative Efforts, Experimentations and Resolutions: The Way to Contemporary Malaysian Dance.

The seminar was engaging not only because the topics were interesting, but above all, it was a sharing by people who lived and breathed dance, and they spoke so passionately and poetically about it.

For all that they believe in, stood up for, championed, preserved, sustained and promoted – it was a celebration of Malaysia’s rich dance history in the making.

I say that with conviction because most of them have mentored or at least have lived during the time of a generation of great dancers who have passed on leaving little or no documentation of their legacy. As such, they are extremely important as current-day keepers of these rich memories and bank of knowledge and wisdom.

Not only that, they are the generation of individuals very much involved in and responsible for the development of both indigenous and contemporary dance in Malaysia in this present period.

The outtake of this seminar to me was the concern of intellectualism (or the lack of it) in Malaysian society. No doubt the hall was quite full but as I observed, the type of attendees at the seminar spoke volumes of the concern that was just raised. The majority were delegates of the 2003 World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific Meeting, followed by academics from local universities, dancers and their dance organisations, associations and companies, a pathetic handful of students, a sorry journalist and the absent general public.

Dance has a fairly good following here regardless of genre. I can vouch for having personally investigated one each of the varied items held during the week of the festival – a workshop (Vincent Tan’s Release Technique), a night of performance (Friday), and finally, the seminar.

Most workshops had to turn away participants as some were already fully booked even before the festival began and tickets for the three-night performance sold like hot cakes.

Participants of these workshops would benefit from the snippets of exposure to various dance genres and insight into what goes on behind dance. And come performances (if they also watch it), they would fully appreciate that looking effortless indeed takes a lot of effort!

The exciting selection of choice performances were milestone showcases of Malaysia’s multi-culturalism and the resulting “contemporary” dance milieu that is uniquely and distinctly Malaysian.

Now, coming back to intellectualism, many still fail to realise that dance is not just about technical perfection and physical fitness. It has an important social, cultural, economic and political story to tell. And those who cannot keep an open mind to learning and correction would only stand to lose.

Dr Mohd Anis Md Nor, newly elected President of World Dance Alliance (Asia Pacific) hopes that this would change in due time. Among his plans are to take MyDance Festival 2005 to a regional level.

Judging from the huge response this year, he feels that by going regional, Malaysians would have a good opportunity to partake in wider cultural exchanges and exposure. He is also lobbying for the Global Assembly of Dance 2007 to be hosted here in Kuala Lumpur. MyDance Festival 2003, which ran from Sept 22 to 28, highlighted over 20 dance pieces, seven workshops and a seminar. The independent festival was organised by MyDance Alliance, a non-profit society of dance practitioners and enthusiasts.

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