Tuesday, January 31, 2006

(D) Jan 30, 2006 - My Mother by Taihen

DURING the six months when I was recuperating from back surgery, I learnt that if some parts of my body refused to move, I would have to get the other parts to. The body seeks other means of mobility.

Watching polio victim Manri Kim perform revealed how far a person can go to overcome bodily limitations.

Kim, the founder of Taihen, a performing arts troupe for the disabled from Japan, was in Kuala Lumpur last week to conduct a three-day workshop and perform My Mother at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.

Taihen is modified from the Japanese word hentai, meaning “queer”. But it stands for “metamorphosis”. The company was formed in 1983.

Kim finds that the disabled body has expressions that no other can create. She creates movements and expressions that she and fellow disabled performers can use.

She also enlists the help of attendants known as kuroko, or backstage staff, to carry performers and props onto and out of the stage.

My Mother is one of 49 works created by Kim. It is a symbolic piece to express her longing for her deceased mother and is an attempt to carry within her her mother’s soul. Her mother, Honju, was the most valuable asset in Korean classical music and dance but a tide of fate brought her to Japan.

The piece that Kim performed was dark, as if she understood only too well the cruel twists of life. In the beginning, the hall was pitch black – and it stayed that way long enough for the audience to feel claustrophobic. A head and two squirming hands that then appeared under a dim spotlight had a scary effect.

It got more painful to watch as more of the body crawled out from beneath the black curtain. The pain came from the realisation that the distortions of the dancer’s body are real and her expressions of angst are a natural reflection of that distortion.

Gradually, the whole body was revealed. Anyone with less than the desired figure dictated by the fashion industry would be conscious of her body. But here, Kim’s distortions were displayed in full view of the audience, and quite unabashedly too.

To move, she used momentum and body weight. This got her moving forward in a crawl, rolling around the stage, and shifting direction when in a sitting position. She used her hands to shift her legs around.

The “unfeeling” (disabled) parts of the body followed the “feeling” (normal) parts. The inevitable movement of the “unfeeling” part, as Kim showed, is connected to one’s inner-most life. What stirs will also move.

During the whole performance, we saw her transform from a baby to a Korean drum dancer, to a bride in a gown. Perhaps these were flashbacks of her mother’s life. Whatever their premise, the transformations were repeatedly startling.

The last and most touching scene saw Kim wearing a simple wedding gown with a pale yellow flower on her head. Her expression was full of hope and longing, for all the could-have-beens in her life. She, too, wants a happily-ever-after.

Dressed in the wedding gown, her visual reference "as beautiful as a bride”, cannot be more resonant with her emphasis that even distorted bodies have their own beauty.

(Pix: KLPac)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

(D) Jan 29, 2006 - Lion Dance


Welcome to the year of the fire dog :)

For the Chinese, Chinese New Year (CNY) is a colourful, vibrant and noisy time of the year. It's quieter now since fireworks were banned. But the rumble of the drums and clash of the cymbals still persist thanks to the Lion Dance performances all over town.

Home owners, shopping complexes and business owners invite Lion Dance troupes to perform at their homes or premises to ‘chase away’ bad luck and to usher in the New Year.

Ever wondered how the Lion Dance came about? Here’s an interesting write-up I found in the Whitefish Bay Kung Fu Club’s website:

There are many versions of how Lion Dance began. The most popular tells of a great Demon named Nian (Chinese for "year") who would come each year and terrorize the people. The people pleaded to Heaven for help against the demon and finally the gods sent Lion. Lion, a heavenly deity, came to earth and chases away the demon. The next year, the people cried out for help again, but Lion would not come. So a wise man told them to make a paper Lion and dance around menacingly while others beat on drums and gongs and lit firecrackers and displayed red cloth to frighten away the demon. The trick worked and they have been chasing the demon away every year since then. And that's why the Lion Dance is part of Chinese New Year Celebrations.

The Dance
The Lion dance is a key element in the celebration of any Chinese holiday or special event. The Lion and musicians chase away evil spirits and bring good luck, long life, and prosperity to all present. The Lion is the emblem of valor, courage, energy and wisdom. The Lion dance is an extension of the Chinese martial arts and is always performed by martial artists.

Not only do the performers display strength, coordination, agility and endurance, they also exemplify the martial spirit in the Ssu-Wei or the four basic supports of a State: Li, or Decorum, Yi, uprightness of mind, Lien, honesty, and Chih, a sense of honor. The goal of the Lion is to find a way to get to the Choy Chang, which is a bunch of greens that usually hides a red envelope called Lai See, containing the payment given to the Lion dancers by the host. There are a number of different Changs or puzzles and each one has a different solution. But whatever the Chang is it is always eaten by the Lion and then spit out.

The Shaolin Monastery was founded over 1500 years ago and to this day remains well-known as the greatest repository of martial arts in the world. Hung Gar is a style that came out of the Southern branch of Shaolin during a time when Ming Dynasty Patriots of Southern China were in RebelLion against foreign domination by the Manchus of the Ching Dynasty. Lion dance was very popular among martial arts schools at that time since it required great strength and agility to master the dance. Hung Gar was used almost exclusively by rebel forces led by secret societies that later became the Triads and Tongs. In fact secret messages about enemy positions and troop movements were passed to rebel leaders hidden in the choy chang of a Lion dance. Even the act of spitting out the choy chang represents casting out the foreign domination of the Ching Dynasty.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

(D) Jan 22, 2006 - Quintessence - Celebrating the Joy of Odissi

Pix Source: The Star

QUINTESSENCE – Celebrating the Joy of Odissi, a Temple of Fine Arts (TFA) production held last weekend, coincided with the auspicious Ponggol festival observed by Hindus to usher in good luck and prosperity. It was the second of year-round programmes which will be held throughout 2006, to celebrate TFA’s 25th anniversary. The first was Umesh in Odissi, staged on Jan 1 and 2.

The beautiful Indian classical dance was presented by Odissi teachers and senior dancers trained by TFA’s Odissi teacher and dancer Geetha Shankaran- Lam. The 11 performers were Gowri Chandran, Sumathi Chandra, Sri Thina, Nadina Vijay, Sri Vidhya, Dhanya, Manjulah Harihara, Priya Roshan, Sharmila Prasad, Urmila Ganesh and Aarthi Paranjothy.

Quintessence, a six-part repertoire, began with a simple devotional item that had the dancers singing and reciting a verse written by the late Swami Shantanand Saraswathi, describing the god Shiva in his silent, meditative form.

This was followed by the Sthai, whereby the dancers emulated dance sculptures in Orissan temples. The choreography revolved around the two basic Odissi stances, chowka (square posture) and tribhangi (‘S’-shaped body). The duo who presented the early part of this piece displayed well-controlled movements, interchanging smoothly between accented and fluid movements.

The next section, the Pallavi (flowering), in Raag Sankarabharanam was a dedication to Saraswathi, goddess of wisdom and learning. The six dancers, through abhinaya (dramatic expressions), portrayed the character of the goddess in a joyful and girlish dance. Their steps traced the six-petal white lotus kolam (an Indian decorative artwork drawn on the floor), representing the goddess’ seat.

Odissi dancer Sharmila Radha Krishnan was also the presenter of ‘Quintessence’.

At one point, the dancers gathered, in the centre of the flower with their hands clasped above their heads, each like a petal. They stood upright at first. Then the lotus blossomed when the dancers bent sideways or leaned forward. This piece showed the versatility of the dance while retaining its quintessence.

The Mangalacharan captured the union and joy of Shiva and Shakthi, who gave birth to Lord Ganesha. The most unique part of this piece was when each of the four dancers formed a part of the head of Lord Ganesha – two tusks, the face and trunk, and the head.

In Yugma Dwandva, Geetha created an ensemble based on a solo choreography she performed in 1994. This strenuous piece dwelt on the concept of jugal bandi or the question-answer process between the musician/singer and the dancer. This pure dance item featured energetic turns, jumps and spins and explored various formations. However, some of the incorporated yoga postures looked out of place and the shaky balancing acts interrupted the flow of the dance.

The concluding section, Moksha (liberation), saw 10 dancers in the role of goddesses, to epitomise divine radiance. Four on centre stage depicted the core of the sun and the others, forming an outer circle, its rays.

The hour-long performance was thoroughly engaging and revealed the good harvest from TFA’s labour of planting and nurturing the seeds of Odissi.

Finding Her Own Style

THE style that Geetha Shankaran-Lam has assimilated is that of the late Kelucharan Mohapatra, one of the Trinity (Brahma- Kelucharan) in Odissi after Pankaj Charan Das (Vishnu), and Guru Deba Prasad Das (Shiva).

“Through Ramli Ibrahim, my guru, I have come to understand and feel Guru Deba Prasad’s style. It’s big, broad, grand, mad, tribal, unconventional and unique. He wanted to say everything in one breath!” Geetha said.

“In contrast, Kelucharanj’s style is quiet, beautiful, graceful, perfect. It involves technique-mastery before the body can melt and move, emphasising curves and intricate rhythms. His choreography heightens Odissi’s sensuality by adopting themes related to nayikas (maidens), the famous Krishna-Radha story, and love poems in Gita Govinda.”

The late Swami Shantanand Saraswathi, founder of the Temple of Fine Arts, encouraged Geetha to study as much as she could from all the gurus before creating something of her own, in line with TFA’s history and growth. In 1997, he invited Kelucharan to Malaysia; the guru stayed with Geetha for a few weeks.

“From him, I learnt to fall in love with simplicity. He gave me his all – dance instruction, books, notes and details on history. He was like the grandfather I never had! I realised that to know more of a style, it is important to understand and experience the life and times of the artiste,” said Geetha.

“With Swamiji’s and Ket’s (my husband) encouragement to continue the process of creativity and evolution, I will persist with my research and study of Odissi styles so as to develop a style of my own one day.”

Thursday, January 19, 2006

(D) Jan 15, 2006 - Passion Flower and Triple Bill

Choreographer Carol Ainsworth restaged Marius Pepita and Lev Ivanov’s version of Swan Lake Act II.

KUALA LUMPUR does not have a ballet company to call its own and, as a result, our top ballerinas and danseurs often seek career opportunities overseas.

This is disappointing because ballet is the most established Western dance form in Malaysia, having found its way here in the early 1970s.

But all this may change thanks to the efforts of The Dance Society (TDS), which has kept ballet very much alive and helped to nurture talents.

This year’s charity performance, Passion Flower and Triple Bill, was performed by students selected by 20 dance teachers from across the nation. The charity event, in aid of Hospis Malaysia, was organised under the patronage of TDS honorary patron, Tunku Dara Naquiah Tuanku Jaafar, and held last weekend at the Securities Commission Auditorium in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur.

Triple Bill comprised three short choreographies and displayed the versatility of ballet.

The first item, Swan Lake’s Act II, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, was restaged by Carol Ainsworth, who was a member of the prestigious London’s Royal Ballet at Covent Garden. She retained much of the choreography (which is in classical form) but made some adaptations to suit the small stage.

Unfortunately, it was still one swan too many. The teenage ballerinas seemed in mid-metamorphosis between ugly duckling and beautiful swan and were still in need of refinement. Though pretty in their white tutus, they could not recreate the element of enchantment necessary to this act. However, the pas de quatre (four ballerinas) was executed with the right amount of playful quality and light-heartedness.

Dream of Green Pastures, choreographed by China-born dancer Zhou Gui Xin, was an impressive combination of modern, ballet and Mongolian dance styles. The two-movement dance started off with an abundance of movements mimicking horses – animals central to the nomadic Mongolian lifestyle – and their riders. It also showcased dancers in half-gallop jumps making circular hand movements and moving across and around the stage at high speed. The energy was reduced in the adagio (slow and sustained movements) section, which was less engaging.

Zhou Gui Xin seamlessly combined modern, ballet and Mongolian dance styles in Dream of Green Pastures.


Well known local performer Too Cyn Dee made an effort to create a ballet with “a twist of Malaysian flavour” with Earth, Wind & Fire. However, the “flavour” was more prominent in the costumes – batik frills, songket skirt and red scarf – than in the choreography. Local flavour should go beyond the ability to gyrate the hips en pointe and the incorporation of gestures from traditional dance. Rather, her style revealed a tendency towards modern ballet with modern dance expressions.

Passion Flower was a 35-minute one act ballet which told a story of love and betrayal. Good friends Maria (Lee Pei Nee) and Elena (Chang Huey Sze) both fall in love with Joseph (Steve Goh). Maria pledges her love with a gift of a special flower – and her accidental discovery of the flower in Elena’s possession results in a tragic outcome.

This performance was choreographed by Ong Hooi Koon and incorporated Latin American music and dance. The simple storyline included some unconventional off-stage drama for the support roles. The most interesting part was a section for three which saw the principal dancer perform with the two lead ballerinas. One could feel the tension of two women competing for a man.

All in, the evening, though not spectacular, displayed a novel effort and a glimmer of hope for better things to come. Would it be too much to ask of TDS to have on their list of “must dos’’ a bigger stage and a live orchestra?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Break-a-Leg Turns ONE!

Picture by TV Smith

My philosophy in life is to try something (not someone) new every year. Last year (2005) January, I decided to start a blog and I did.

70 posts later, I’m pleased to say that there are 877 people in my mailing list who did not ask me to Un Break My Leg. For those who did…how my heart breaks! Well, one must learn to accept rejection....

The Year in Summary


- Break-a-Leg gets to cover (and support) as much as a single female is humanly possible, performing arts in Malaysia

- Break-a-Leg was awarded a Fellowship by the Institute of Dance Criticism, American Dance Festival 2005 (Duke University)

- Break-a-Leg travels to Bali, Vietnam (Hanoi and Hoi An), America (San Francisco, Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, Monterey Bay, 17th Mile Drive, Durham, New York), Europe (Germany, Vienna, Hungary, Prague)


- Break-a-Leg gets the boot from Kakiseni’s Cameronian Arts Awards Dance Judging Panel for challenging the judging process (yes, I am a rebel!)

- Break-a-Leg did not finish her PhD (sigh...this year lah....)

- Break-a-Leg’s fixed deposit statement is reduced to passport stamps

For those who are still hobbling along with me, one-legged, warts and all, thank you for your support.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

(D) Jan 1, 2006 - Umesh Shetty in Odissi

MANY may have heard of Umesh Shetty and his experimental contemporary dance initiative, Inner Space, which featured the performance Inside Out last May. Now, just months later, what has led him back to the classical form?

"Many people think that I have left classical Indian dance because I have been very involved in contemporary and fusion dance. That is not true,” said Umesh.

“Inner Space is a platform for dancers to connect with change. The world is getting smaller and the audience expects dancers to be able to move in and out of different forms of dance.”

Tonight, Umesh will kick-start the Temple of Fine Arts’ celebration of 25 years of dance and music with Umesh Shetty in Odissi, his first solo Odissi presentation. He will reveal his prowess as an Indian classical dancer in a five-piece traditional repertoire, under the creative direction of Geetha Shankaran Lam.

Born into a family of dancers, Umesh grew up watching his parents perform, and tagging along when they toured. His father, the late Gopal Shetty, was a pioneer dancer with the Temple of Fine Arts (TFA) when it was formed in 1981.

At 10, Umesh studied Bharatanatyam under his father; he also picked up a bit of Kathakali and Manipura from him. In 1991, he went to India to study Khatak with Rohini Bhate (for three months). A year later, he started his Odissi training with Geetha.

In 1994, he left for Australia to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Dance at Edith Cowan University. There, he studied ballet, contemporary dance and choreography.

“When I returned to Malaysia in 1997, I had the idea of fusing dance from the East and West. As I became more mature, I begin to see dance as a means of expression, and our body, an instrument. The aim is not to bring Malay or Chinese dance into a piece of work. Rather, if a certain movement from a different dance form can express an emotion, story or character better, then it makes sense to use it.”

Maturity has also changed Umesh’s approach to Odissi. Before, it was just about getting the steps and sequences right. Now, he feels he has more freedom to play around with the steps.

“For example, when my body is in a tribhanga (an S shape), I ask, ‘How do I throw my energy across this shape?’ and ‘Where is this curve going?’”

As far as classical Indian dance goes, Umesh believes that dance is a prayer. The dancer forgets himself in meditation and takes on the role that he is dancing.

And what about Geetha’s hand in creative direction?

“As her student since 1992, I have seen her style change; it is still evolving as she strives to define her own style,” Umesh replied. “Geetha was one of Ramli Ibrahim’s first few graduates. There are two main styles in Odissi. Ramli comes from the Deba Prasad school (a masculine style).

“Kelucharan Mohapatra, whose style is more feminine, led the other school. When Kelucharan came to Malaysia in 1998, he stayed with Geetha for a few weeks and imparted knowledge to her. May I add that dancers from all over India would die to spend just one hour with the legendary Kelucharan.

“That’s how it is with classical Indian dance. Someone contributes to an art from and someone else takes it further. Geetha is combining the Deba Prasad and Kelucharan styles and exploring how far she can take the merger. It’s an on-going process and it is exciting to see what it will evolve into.”