Thursday, April 30, 2009

Speech by Ms Choy Su-Ling, ADC Launch

Speech by Ms Choy Su-Ling at the ADC launch

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you so much for coming today.

I would like to share with you how AsiaDanceChannel came to be.

AsiaDanceChannel is first and foremost a corporate social responsibility programme with the objective of promoting dance and preserving dance heritage.

In the scope of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues, ADC’s CSR projects fall under ‘Social.’ While many Environmental and Governance projects are already in place, ADC provides one of the most comprehensive touch points to address Social issues, using dance as a channel.

When we talk about dance in the context of Asia, it often cannot be separated from music and theatre because all these are intrinsically linked together as the manifestation of the culture, custom, and lifestyle of a certain community. We need to make a collective effort to preserve these multi-cultures without which the substance for interculturalism would not exist.

As a nation, we are not only blessed with natural resources but also cultural resources. As we transit into an innovation-fuelled economy, the driving force in the next phase of our development will be the imaginative and creative capacity of our people. The new architects of the global economic landscape are those who apply their imagination, creativity and knowledge to generate new ideas and create new value. Multi-dimensional creativity – including artistic and literary creativity – will be the new currency of success.

Many countries now see the creative industries as a key competitive advantage in the globalised economy. Ideas and imagination have become valuable assets and drivers of economic opportunities and growth. We must harness creativity and the power of innovation to forge ahead in a competitive and globalised economy. To succeed and thrive, we must tap on the creative cluster - which are arts, culture, design and media – and recognise them as one of the vanguards of economic growth.

Industries which are inspired by cultural and artistic creativity have the potential to create economic value through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property. For example, dance repertoires are intellectual property.

The efforts include developing creative capabilities, stimulating sophisticated demand and strengthening industry players to become credible and significant players in the global creative landscape. This is a tall order and we cannot do it alone. AsiaDanceChannel strive to bridge dance communities with business communities. For a start, we are making an effort to lobby for cultural philanthropy in corporate CSR agenda. We need to create a unique people-private-public collaborative platform providing various levels of support, including facilitation and funding.

The emerging social contract dictates that profit seeking must be carried on within a broader context than the traditional economic calculus. The corporation is a social organization as well as an economic organization and its performance will be appraised in social as well as economic terms. Businesses must restructure its objectives so that social goals are put on par with economic goals.

If I were to ask you who is the Martha Graham or Merce Cunningham of Asia? Nobody knows. This is a pity because in Asia we have so many Grand Masters and dance exponents who are custodians of dance heritage. In 2005, UNESCO declared mak yong, a traditional dance-drama from northern Malaysia, a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” wants to put Asian talents and culture on the world map. By promoting and raising the profile of Asian dance and dancers, we hope that the younger generation would develop an interest in inheriting these art forms.

Most of the large continents such as USA, Europe and Australia, have dance magazines, so why not Asia? Asia comprise of an aggregate of the cultural heritage of many nationalities, societies, religions, and ethnic groups in the region., as a new media channel fills the gap for rich Asian content and gives dance in Asia the share of voice it deserves.

The objective of the dance magazine is to create dance ‘audienceship’ converting individuals with no prior inclination towards dance to someone that does.

Last but not least, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Media, Dance and Southeast Asia Departments of University Malaya for their collective efforts in putting up the International Dance Day celebrations. I would also like to thank Creative Technology Advances Sdn Bhd, our technology sponsor, for taking the lead in cultural philanthropy through the provision of their technology support.

And finally, happy International Dance Day!

Thank you. – Asia’s First Online Dance Magazine Launch – Asia’s First Online Dance Magazine Launch

29 April 2009 marks an important date for the dance communities as Asia’s first online dance magazine,, was launched in conjunction with International Dance Day. The double celebration heralds the revival of society’s interest in dance.

“Most of the large continents such as USA, Europe and Australia, have dance magazines, so why not Asia? Asia comprise of an aggregate of the cultural heritage of many nationalities, societies, religions, and ethnic groups in the region. fills the gap for rich Asian content and gives dance in Asia the share of voice it deserves,” said founder Ms Choy Su-Ling, a dance blogger.

“Who is the Martha Graham or Merce Cunningham of Asia? Not many people know. This is a pity because in Asia we have so many Grand Masters and dance exponents who are custodians of dance heritage. In 2005, UNESCO declared mak yong, a traditional form of dance-drama from northern Malaysia, a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” wants to put Asian talents and culture on the world map. By promoting and raising the profile of Asian dance, we hope that the younger generation would develop an interest in inheriting these art forms.”

However, the online dance magazine does not only cover traditional and classical dance forms. It also covers contemporary, ballet, modern, jazz, Latin American and other dance forms practiced and enjoyed in Asia. The online dance magazine now features dance reviews, interviews, event listings, and videos. Readers are able to plan ahead for shows and festivals not only in their own country but even as they travel Asia.
The magazine not only targets dancers and dance enthusiasts but also people who have a general interest in culture and art, and travellers. In fact, the goal of creating dance ‘audienceship’ is to convert individuals with no prior inclinations towards dance to someone that does.

More sophisticated modules of the website are in the pipeline and has Creative Advances Technology Sdn Bhd (CAT), the technology sponsor, to thank. CAT is the developer of the highly successful, the official e-tourism portal for the Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia, which today receives over 30 million hits and 1 million pageviews a month. Following the success of the portal, CAT developed the Malaysian Tourism Online Unified Reservation System (myTOURS), a consolidated tourism e-business platform funded by the MDeC development grant.

“We recognize that in Asia, dance is an integral part of the culture and therefore the agenda to promote and preserve dance heritage can be achieved by fully harnessing the power of communications technology through myTOURS. We are very pleased that AsiaDanceChannel invited us to be a part of this initiative that contributes such a tremendous intangible economic value to the nation,” said Mr Vincent Kok, Chief Operating Officer of CAT, when officiating the launch of the online dance magazine.

International Dance Day was celebrated jointly with the Media, Dance and Southeast Asia Departments of University Malaya. Students put up an afternoon of performance featuring the taklempong ensemble, and Zapin, Ngajat Iban, Bharatanatyam and contemporary dances. According to tradition, the International Dance Day Message circulated around the world by the International Dance Committee of the International Theatre Institute UNESCO (ITI/UNESCO) was read out.

In 1982, the ITI/UNESCO founded International Dance Day to be celebrated every year on 29 April. The date commemorates the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre, born in 1728, who was a great reformer of dance. In 1995, in an effort to unite dance, the ITI/UNESCO entered into a collaborative effort for the celebration of International Dance Day with World Dance Alliance as their only official partner. Every year, a message from a well-known dance personality is circulated throughout the world. This year, the honour goes to Mr Akram Khan, an acclaimed choreographer of Bangladeshi decent. The intention of International Dance Day and the Message is to bring all dancers together on this day, to celebrate this art form and revel in its universality, to cross all political, cultural and ethnic barriers and to bring people together in peace and friendship with a common language - Dance.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

(D) A Delicate Situation

A Delicate Situation
Rimbun Daham, Lina Limosani

12-13 December 2008 (8.30pm)
14 December 2008 (3pm)
Pentas 2, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre

Rimbun Dahan’s dance residency programme featured its third resident choreographer, Lina Limosani, in a full-length contemporary dance performance entitled A Delicate Situation. Limosani graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in Australia in 1999 and shortly after became a member of the Australian Dance Theatre from 2000-2005. She is more familiar with comedy but decided to dabble with the horror genre instead having been inspired by the story of our Malaysian Pontianak.

Apparently, she walked into her room at the residence one day and caught a glimpse of something white floating in the air. Coming out of her shock, she bravely ventured closer towards the ‘thing’ that caught her imagination. To her relief, it was just a piece of white cloth hung on a clothes hanger flapping away due to the wind sweeping in from a nearby window. She then decided to ask about Malaysian ghost stories and finally settled on the Pontianak, the ghost of a woman who dies while giving birth.

That ‘close encounter’ at the residence certainly had an effect on Limosani as she went on to use a lot of white cloth on set and for costumes; so much that even textile superstore, Kamdar, could have run out of supply! The clever use of material and lighting created a naturally creepy ambiance on the dim stage. The audience was held in suspense, anticipating the sight of the horrifying creature wrapped and hidden in the white cloth cocoon as it tries to claw through it. The back light that cast on the ‘creature’ created a shadowy hint of what it might potentially look like. I always take my hat off to those who can do so much with so little.

Thanks to show producer Bilqis Hijjas, Limosani had the benefit of working with four of Malaysia’s best contemporary dancers - Suhaili Micheline, Rathimalar Govindarajoo, Elaine Pedley and Low Shee Hoe.

Low played a young man eaten alive by the pontianaks. Humans are crunchier than I thought, from the crunchy sound chosen by composer Hardesh Singh in the scene where the pontianaks happily mauled Low. It injected a comical feel, which I felt, was wrong for this scene. Low did a good job in playing the victim and was very passionate in his role. However, I thought that the show could go on quite well without this character (and this has got nothing to do with Low).

Micheline and Govindarajoo both played Pontianak while the very pregnant Pedley played the pregnant obsessive compulsive housewife and pontianak victim. Limosani settled on insect-like movements as the core dance vocabulary for the pontianaks. This worked particularly well in the scenes where the creatures were hidden and semi hidden by the cloths and in the scene where the Pontianak attacked the pregnant lady. The ‘unhumanly’ and contorted movements created visually disturbing images of the dancers.

Between Micheline and Govindarajoo, Micheline was the more convincing pontianak of the two. This was partly because of the characterisation – Micheline had the opportunity to become the only true pontianak as she attacked and devoured the pregnant lady; and for Govndarajoo, it was partly because of her winged costume. It gave her a certain stiffness that made her look like a predatory air-borne alien. And at the end of the Alien vs Pontianak tussle (in her character), the aliens won.

A delicate situation does apply to the amazing Pedley, who, 8 months into pregnancy, and against advice from well-meaning friends and family, insisted on performing. At the rate she was moving and shaking, she could have fooled the audience into thinking that she was simply acting the part. Her role was a breath of fresh air introducing theatrics proper into the dance. As the pregnant lady, she displayed a knack for keeping her house in order and does so by perpetually cleaning and shifting things around. She began to sense an evil presence in her home when she noticed that the item she moved was not in its place. It could be basic maternal instinct at play because Pedley acted out with conviction the fear and attempts to protect her unborn baby.

When I spoke to Limosani after the show, she said that there were areas that she felt can be improved on and felt quite relieved that everything went well despite the short time she had to put up the show. She praised the Malaysian dancers for their dedication and excellent work. Having enjoyed the process of creating this work, she has this to say to the audience, “Watch out for more horror!”

Friday, April 10, 2009

(D) Rasa Unmasked

Rasa Unmasked
Australia Month
7 – 12 April 2009
Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre

Rasa Unmasked is the work of three pioneers of classical forms presented in the contemporary context. The show, held during the Australia Month at KLPac, is the result of collaborative efforts between Ramli Ibrahim, Artistic Director of Sutra Dance Theatre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Anandavalli Sivanathan, Artistic Director of Lingalayam Dance Company, Sydney, Australia, and Alex Dea, Javanese gamelan specialist, Ethnomusicologist, Composer and Musician based in Indonesia.

The work tries to establish common grounds between Indian and Indonesian cultures and they found it in the blending of sounds, contemporary interpretation of classical dance forms and Rasa, or emotions. The universality of these three elements transcends racial and national barriers.

Pix by The Star

In particular, the work expounded on the Rasa theory and quite literally explored emotions such as Adbhuta (wonderment), Sringara (love), Veera (valour), Karuna (compassion), Hasya (laughter), Bibhatsa (disgust), Bhaya (fear), Raudra (anger), and Shanta (serenity).

Great care was taken to use certain classical dance genres to present a certain emotion. Odissi, with its more feminine style was used to portray wonderment, in a scene that represents birth, and fear, stereotyping women as weak. January Low was especially convincing in bhaya (fear) and even beneath the veiled costume, every muscle in her body suggested fear and oppression.

Bharatanatyam has a more masculine style and was naturally the preferred genre to project emotions of disgust and anger. However, the composition of these pieces were not refined making the dancers look rather clumsy.

Kuchipudi, the precursor to Odissi, was the choice of dance to describe the most basic of human emotion – love. In Anandavalli’s Kuchipudi solo, she mimed the words of the carnatic song to bring out fully, the courtesan’s passion and longing for love for the nayak (hero).

Ramli’s solo was the Balinese Baris (warrior) dance to display a hero’s valour. However, I thought Ramli does a better job at performing classical indian dance. This valour scene depended too much on the gawdy kavadi-like prop to exude the energy and confidence of a warrior instead of conveying the rasa through sound choreography. The outcome was, unfortunately, a strange peacock dance.

Attempts were made to evoke characters from the epic ramayana with movements taken from both Balinese and classical Indian dance styles. The approach of combining both classical dance styles was used to interpret the characters rama and ravana but somehow the execution of it was rather awkward and unnatural. On the other hand, the contemporary interpretation of masked monkey characters, representing Hanuman, the monkey god was beautifully done. The characters in themselves were not alien given the evident influence of hinduism in both cultures.

Rasa Unmasked not only brought together different dancing traditions but takes a step further to merge Javanese and Indian classical music to great effect. The combination of voice and classical instruments lends an interesting texture to the mood of the performance. In fact, I was more impressed with the scores than the choreography.

The dancers generally put up a commendable performance with the senior dancers carrying the rasa more profoundly than the younger ones. The choreography, I felt, had an obvious Sutra stamp on it. However, I am not familiar enough with Anandavalli’s works to identify her influence on the choreography and artistic direction.

All in, I was not entirely moved by the performance. The projection of rasa is one thing but making the audience feel it is quite another. While I applaud the concept and idea behind Rasa Unmasked, the choreography and overall execution did not make the audience feel the rasa. Not enough thought was put into examining the delivery of movements given its rich intercultural context. Hence, the full potential of rasa was largely untapped. What’s missing is an expert in Balinese dance who could provide invaluable insight into the element of rasa in Balinese dance. The performance was good but because of this missing element, it fell short of a standing ovation.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

(D) Conquest of the Galaxy: Mars

Conquest of the Galaxy: Mars
By Condors
19-21 March 2009
Pentas 1, KLPac

I’m always happy to spend an evening entertained by men. Thus, I had no resistance at all to the idea of a Friday-night conquest for Japanese testosterones that promises to be ‘sweaty,’ according to some reviews, and offers liberal use of shitck. I’m talking about the all-male Japanese contemporary dance troupe, Condors, founded by Ryohei Kondo in 1996, performing in Malaysia for the first time.

Apparently, wherever they go, Condor performances always send their audiences spinning with amazement, shock, and laughter with their trademark school uniforms, comedy, parodies of local clichés, and the use of overblown video imagery. It seems they are attempting to create a new form of dance and to push its boundaries for the 21st century.

Joseph Gonzales, a veteran figure in Kuala Lumpur’s dance scene, has been researching the meaning of ‘contemporary’ in its application to dance in Malaysia and to date, he admits, that a concrete definition remains elusive. It is a frightening coincidence, in my observation, that Gonzales choreographs similar works these days and also claims to be ‘pushing the boundaries.’

It would by hypocritical to rave about Conquest of the Galaxy: Mars (CGM) and disapprove of Gonzales’ Random (choreographed for Jamu 2008). Although high in entertainment value, I was rather disappointed with both works.

While Random was not to my liking, 9 to 5 an earlier work in similar format by Gonzales certainly rank amongst my favourites because of its excellent dance and entertainment value. Marion D’Cruz is the first person in Malaysia, to my knowledge, to seamlessly weave theatre into dance (sometimes more theatre than dance) without short-changing the audience of dance. Bravo! She had also put up numerous performances choreographed and performed by non-dancers. So the idea of putting stiff men on stage is nothing new. If CGM is the benchmark for contemporary dance, then these works by our Malaysian choreographers are certainly more deserving of a global tour.

Some may share my sentiments that we cannot fully appreciate CGM as a form of contemporary dance. I would appreciate contemporary dance as more dance than theatre, video, puppetry and contests; if not, then these other elements should add value to the quality of the dance performance in its’ totally, and not distract the audience away from dance. Anything less and the dance-going audience would feel short-changed. CGM was, to me, little more than an entertainment piece. You watch, you laugh, and you go home.

A noteworthy item in CGM was the concluding dance piece depicting a day at the beach. Here, Kondo displayed his ingenuity in using the human body to form objects (toilet bowl, surf board), and to illustrate the character of waves. Two men bundled up together to form a turtle laying eggs – a gem! Another burst of creativity was displayed in a football field scene - a man curled up into a ‘football’ and when kicked by the striker, he rolled in his curled up position, into the goal post.

The intermittent dance scenes were nothing to shout about. The choreographies featured some wannabe boy band-ish backup dancing to too-loud rock music and poor remakes of dance scenes from High School Musical (in fact, High School Musical was better).

Humour was abundant throughout this show but after a while, the formula becomes old, cliché and not so funny. For example “101 things to do with a toilet pump” was funny but the subsequent “101 things to do with a French loaf” in France, projected on video, was lame. Rotten Street, a mockery of Sesame Street was what it intended to be – rotten.

A friend in the Japanese dance scene told me that in Japan, Condors is defined as an “entertainment contemporary dance” company. The director, Kondo, appears in television programmes and so forth to reach out to a new target audience for contemporary dance (and not only to the culturally-inclined), and therefore his works are important.

Did Condors push the boundaries of dance? No. Did they reach new audiences in Malaysia? Judging from the packed theatre, I think the obvious answer is yes.