ASWARA, Kuala Lumpur
22 – 25 October 2009
This year’s JAMU was a four-day affair with a long list of contemporary line-ups simply split into ‘Program A’ and ‘Program B.’ JAMU is an annual contemporary dance production of the National Arts, Culture and Heritage Academy (ASWARA) featuring choreographies by the school’s dance lecturers and tutors.
Having followed almost all of the schools’ earlier productions including AWAS (2003) and the earlier JAMUs since 2005, JAMU 2009 finally displayed a crystallized Malay identity that melds smoothly into the contemporary dance form.
Wayang Orang by Mohd Seth Hamzah drew inspiration from our Wayang Kulit art form, creating dance emulating stiff puppet movements. Instead of the puppet ‘dancing’ behind the white screen, we see the shadow of a man dressed as a puppet acting the part of the real puppet. This concept revealed a unique reversal of characterization – puppets are usually created after human characters, but now, man reinvents himself as a puppet. This reinvention comes with the emancipation from the dalang as the man is free to move as he pleases. The stage was also decorated with white curtain strips from which dancers emerge to form two clearly delineated group works. The female group were gentle and graceful in their movements and seemed not to be in a hurry at all, while the male group provided the contrast with strong dynamics, befitting the Silat warrior.
When the film Perempuan, Isteri dan … featured the practice of nasi kangkang, a control spell cast on an unfaithful husband with the aid of a bomoh (witch doctor), it caused quite a stir. In this practice, the woman squats over a steaming pot of rice during the time of her menstruation, and then feeds her husband. Whether the spell works or not is debatable. Perhaps it is precisely this controversy that intrigued Aris Kadir enough to explore this topic in his dance Nasi Putih. The sarong- clad cast was predictable, featuring the long-suffering wife, the adulterous husband, and the temptress. Despite its also predictable storyline, the choreography, especially in its duets, explored quite thoroughly the various innuendos lurking in a triangular relationship including sexual tensions, sexual intimacy, male (gender) domination, domestic disputes, and rivalry amongst women.
Visiting Professor from the University of California, Wendy Rogers presented KL/CA Mix, a piece that is visibly different from her earlier Duet En Plein Air in which she performed with Jennifer Twilley at Lepas, Tetap Menari earlier this year. This piece explores chaos and order. We see how human structures ‘break from the line,’ and then, like karmic destiny, falls back into place/in line in a fluid, continuous momentum. KL/CA Mix displayed Rogers’ ability to create structures while giving dancers a free hand to develop their own movements.
Wong Kit Yaw takes more artistic liberties than he could in the still running Chinese musical I Have a Date with Spring by Dama Orchestra in Revisited. Wong’s tendency towards Chinese sensibilities in his works is apparent. Set against the 60s backdrop, he celebrates the female ethos of that era in a reminisce mood. A video plays in the background featuring a dim, smoky, collage of scenes taken from In the Mood for Love, a 2000 Hong Kong film set in the same era, directed by Wong Kar-wai; while at front of stage, the dancers distinguished themselves donning bright red or blue cheongsam and holding a pretty, dainty fan. The choreography was primarily group work sprouting effeminate gestures and small, subtle movements. A voice-over repeating the words ‘yesterday’s yesterday…’ in Mandarin became a constant reminder of the glorious years of past. In this piece, Wong did not focus on technique but on dramatic expression; and combined these with brilliant artistic direction that transports us into the past.
Of all Vincent Tan’s works I’ve watched, Autumn is the piece I enjoyed most. Light-hearted, playful, funny and colourful, the piece evoked the mood of a carefree, happy Sunday. Tan works with an all-male team to reflect on his cheerful youth. Each dancer had a unique character and the male-bonding did not miss boys’ disgusting traits and doses of cheeky nastiness in their interaction with each other.
Joseph Gonzales had preferred a more theatrical form in his recent works and I was pleasantly surprised when Touched featured a stronger dance element in it. To his credit, Gonzales’ Touched was the only piece that ‘touched’ on current issues; in particular, the recent deaths of several creative talents around the world. Current issues can be used as a powerful tool to engage the audience and thus, making it easy for them to understand dance – and this was the only piece that was largely understood. The tribute incorporated multimedia and projections of the deceased were screened larger-than-life, on the background and on the entire stage floor. Gonzales refers the deceased by first name – Michael (Jackson), Patrick (Swayze), Yasmin (Yusof), Merce (Cunningham), etc – as if he knew them intimately. However, the star of the show was not the dancers, but the multimedia projection. I found myself watching the video more than the dancers, who were relegated into a supporting role.
Suhaili Micheline Ahmad Kamil’s Nerds Gone Nuts was a delightfully entertaining piece. The choreography recently won first prize in Short + Sweet 2009’s dance category. With two teams of nerds, lots of toys and wacky demeanour, the lively piece certainly left the audience in stitches.
Gan Chih Pei’s Before 40 is my favourite piece in JAMU 2009. Not because I fit into this age group, but because of Gan’s artistic intelligence in conveying very clearly, the difficult task of describing what she feels, turning forty. If the title and synopsis did not suggest her age, I would have thought that a twenty-something in her physical prime was performing on stage. Gan’s technical mastery was clearly above the other dancers in this JAMU. Walking back and forth at the back very quickly across the stage, she re-enters, carrying a bundle of clothes - the bundle grows bigger each time she re-enters, and finally, she throws them on the bright, red, modern sofa. The bundle represents clothes that she wore over the years ranging from a pink baby tutu to baggy t-shirts. As we identify the age of a tree by counting its rings, so do we, of Gan’s age, as she charts every ten years of her life by putting on a top throughout the dance; and she had on four layers of clothes at the end of it. The circular hand and legs movements that dominate her choreography nicely complemented the ‘tree rings,’ nature’s way of telling age. A musician in plain sight played the di zhi (Chinese flute) underlining the reflective piece with melancholic notes. Before 40 was a simple, honest, and moving piece.
There were many items featured over the two programs. Suffice to mention, these are my top picks. And for RM10 per show, JAMU 2009 certainly outshines many costlier productions.