4 Sep 2015

Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival

Moving Legends on Stage
Subhadra DevanTuesday,
August 25, 2015

The Tree’ by Dua Space will be staged at Istana Budaya. (Pictures courtesy of KLIAF)

Four women in Malaysian folklore take centrestage in “Aduh, Seroja”, to be staged for the month-long Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival (KLIAF) which starts Sept 1.

“Aduh, Seroja” is a commissioned work for the festival and was borne out of discussions with Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, curator of the dance segment of KLIAF, and National Arts Culture and Heritage Academy’s (Aswara) Faculty of Dance’s Dr Joseph Gonzales early this year.

The show is in keeping with the KLIAF theme, “Rediscovering Our Heritage”, and the rich diversity present in language, food, fashion, dance, music, arts or literature serves as a wellspring of resource for creative inspirations and empowerment.

“‘Aduh, Seroja’ will weave in the stories of four women — Tun Teja, Mahsuri, Puteri Saadong and Tun Fatimah — into a showcase of classical Malay dances. These are asyik, terinai, silat and joget,” said Gonzales at a recent preview of the dance segment at a hotel in KL.

The choreographers are Gonzales, Norsafini Jafar, Mohd Yunus Ismail, Mohd Seth Hamzah and Mamat Samsudin.

“Why these four women? Well, they’re well known and have been unjustly treated by society. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of Malaysia, as well as looking for my own identity in the rich folklore and mythological tales of our country.

“You know, not since the 1980s has there been a full-length Malay classical dance drama. In the late 70s and 80s, (Datin) Azanin Ahmad used to put up sumptuous dance dramas.”

Azanin is the founder, artistic director and choreographer of Suasana Cultural Centre.

Gonzales pointed out that the tale of Kelantan queen Puteri Saadong was recently enacted by Sabera Shaik while Mahsuri’s story had been staged by the Temple of Fine Arts and the Petronas Performing Arts Group over the past decade.

The tales around the four women in “Aduh, Seroja” are the stuff that make boys into men and folklore into legend.

Stories abound about the 17th century Kelantan queen. Generally, the tale goes that Puteri Saadong had to leave her husband, Raja Abdullah, and her kingdom to stop a Thai king from invading the area. For her sacrifice, Raja Abdullah promised her that he would not remarry. The queen cures the Thai king and was allowed a safe journey home. But her husband had by then found another and so, in her rage, she killed him.

In the 15th century, Tun Teja was a beauty wooed by both the Sultan of Malacca and his warrior, Hang Tuah. She was duped by Hang Tuah and had to marry the sultan.

Another beauteous woman, a married Tun Fatimah in the 16th century, was wanted by another Malaccan sultan. She spurned his advances and he sentenced all the men in her family to death. Well, she married him to spare their lives and eventually led an army to fight against the invasion of Malacca by the Portuguese.

In the late 18th century, Langkawi Island’s Mahsuri was falsely accused of adultery while her husband was away. She was executed but when white blood flowed instead of red, her innocence was proven to all. She cursed the island with seven generations of bad luck.

“‘Aduh, Seroja’ is not really telling the stories about these four women but will portray their strength in the context of women who were powerful in their time.

“It’s quite abstract in a sense,” added Gonzales. “It’s an artistic perspective, and we are excavating different forms to tell stories. I hope audiences will be entertained and even start a discussion on the role of women in today’s society.

“The show will involve 15 to 20 dancers from Aswara while the music is a commissioned new work by Teuku Umar Hany.”

While there has been dance festivals in the Klang Valley with Aswara’s Jamu and MyDance Alliance shows, Gonzales said: “It’s a real challenge to be able to stage a dance festival of this level in the Klang Valley. The arts need consistency to get any kind of legitimacy.”

Competing for the attention of festival-goers that same weekend is another commissioned work called “The Tree” by Dua Space Dance Theatre. It promises to deliver contemporary dance at its best.

Dua Space is a 17-year-old dance organisation based in Puchong, headed by Anthony Meh and Aman Yap. Both became professional dancers upon graduation from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Both have also choreographed several works including “Tun Mahathir, The Musical”, “Black & White: Variation” and “The Den”.

“‘The Tree’ represents the flora and cultural beauty of Malaysia,” said Meh of the 90-minute
show. “It is also about the spiritual side of the country. There will be about 50 performers, including drummers and ballet dancers. It won’t be boring!”

Dua Space has toured the world with recent shows in Barcelona, Spain, and Singapore. After this world premiere, the company will tour South Korea and Taiwan.

“Aduh, Seroja” and “The Tree” are part of the 12 world premieres of original works in the dance segment. The segment kicks off with another commissioned work called “Tepak Tari”, under producer Bilqis Hijjas of dance organisation MyDance Alliance.

To run for two nights from Sept 3, it offers six short premieres, each 10 minutes long. On Sept 5, all 12 works will be performed. These works range from traditional to contemporary. Performers include Suhaili Micheline & Faillul Adam, Lee Wushu Arts Theatre, choreographed by Lee Swee Seng, Rathimalar Govindarajoo & January Low, DPAC Dance Co, choreographed by JS Wong, and the Temple of Fine Arts KL, choreographed by Umesh Shetty.

“Tepak Tari” will be staged at Auditorium DBKL, Jalan Raja Laut, KL.

Other than dance, the KLIAF also offers music events such as a Dataran Merdeka show on Sept 27 featuring Gerard Singh, Zainal Abidin, Dasha Logan, Datuk Khadijah Ibrahim and Indonesian Marcell Siahaan, with the National Symphony Orchestra.

There’s also a show at Stadium Negara on Sept 12 featuring rock bands Wings, Hujan and Iklim. Meanwhile, the best of Asean jazz can be seen at the Lake Gardens with Koh Mr Saxman, Indra Lemana and the Steve Nanda group, with percussion shows by Steve Thornton, Tribal Tides, Binh Minh, Hands Percussion and AkashA on Sept 19-20.

For details, visit www.diversecity.my.

For dance drama fans, “Aduh, Seroja” will be staged on Oct 2-4 at Auditorium DBKL at 8.30pm. “The Tree” is set for Oct 1-4 at Panggung Sari, Istana Budaya, at 8.30pm, with weekend 3pm matinees. Tickets are RM55 and RM35. For details on the dance segment, visit www.klidance. com, www.sutrafoundation.org.my or call 03 4021 1092, 03 7610 0682 or email sutrafoundation25@ gmail.com.


KLIAF 2015: A magical dance concoction
By Meena Sreenivasan

Bernard Shaw once said “There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it”. The same thing can be said about Dance. There is no such thing as good and bad dance. There is only dance.

A showcase of stimulating dance-theatre creations, carefully curated to rediscover our heritage will be presented during the month-long Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival (KLIAF) 2015.

Beginning September 3 to October 4 at Istana Budaya and Auditorium DBKL, it will feature a total of 12 enthralling premieres which will take on both national and international performances.

(above) Ganjam, an odissi dance composition by Sutra Foundation, weaves around several dialectic forms

The Dance genre component of KLIAF 2015, known as the Kuala Lumpur International Dance Festival 2015 will serve as a comprehensive platform and umbrella for a showcase of stimulating dance-theatre creations.

Carefully curated with a theme “Rediscovering Heritage”, audience will be visually treated to a transformation of traditions into relevant contemporary offerings.

Kuala Lumpur International Dance Festival curator and dance maestro, Datuk Ramli Ibrahim (main picture), has cleverly concocted a magical array of talents for this dance festival.

“Never before has Malaysia experienced a treasure trove of 12 world premieres – that too of various dance-theatre genres within a period of one month, making the Festival a dance playground Kuala Lumpur has ever seen,” he said.

(above) Tepak Tari by MyDance Alliance

“Sutra Foundation for the entire month, has brought together major dance players in Malaysia – institutions and their artistic directors, individual choreographers, composers, lighting and set designers, who will synergize their creative energy in an integrated effort to give KLIAF 2015 a truly original and stimulating artistic fiesta. As we all know, culture and arts has always been the antidote to lift flagged spirits,” Ramli added.

Sutra Foundation will present the highlight of the dance festival, entitled Ganjam. An odissi dance composition, it pays homage to the culturally potent region of Southern Odisha, home ground of some of Odisha’s eminent medieval composers, poets and literary figures.

“We have engaged a new and adventurous repertoire from Guru Gajendra Panda, who, inspired by the folk dances and musical traditions of rural Ganjam, infuse fresh energy and vocabulary to Sutra’s odissi. The dance composition will be accompanied by musicians from Odisha,” he pointed out.


(above) Anuraag, a solo bharatanatyam performance by Hema Nandhini

“This production is not intended to tilt the balance which exists in odissi in favour of Ganjam. Neither does it offer a counter poise. It is intended to stand for the spirit of unexplored beauty that could be part of present day odissi. It attempts to inject the ingenious creativity and artfulness – inspired by the folk and rural forms from the cultural rich Ganjam – imbuing present day odissi with a spirit of endless discovery,” highlighted Ramli.

According to Ramli, except for Ganjam (Odissi) by Sutra and one solo bharatanatyam (Indian classical dance) by Hema Nandhini entitled Anuraag, most of the works are contemporary. Ramli believes that the spirit of modern contemporary permeates through even traditional works, especially in our Asian society where traditional and modern works are contemporaneous in the same frame.

“Within both the contemporary traditional and modern, there is a creative continuum, which is why we want to celebrate this festival. Thematically, it’s not as much as wanting to define ‘modernity’, rather, to ‘revel’ in this creativity,” he explained.

Ramli further added, “I am interested to encourage and catalyse the creation of a body of original Malaysian dance-theatre works. If we are able to be convincing in this effort, the brand building and marketing of a Kuala Lumpur Arts Festival can be more credible and justified.”

(above) The Tree by Dua Space

“We are not averse to having global and international points of embarkation but our own indigenous potentials should not be disregarded. There is a need to give credence to serious creativity within our own sphere to forge originality, as opposed to preoccupying ourselves with the tried-and-tested “commercial” and “derivative” varieties – especially when these usually come as third-hand consumer junk fodder,” he stressed.

“How can we truly value, brand and market a Festival that does not first have a body of original indigenous product? Therefore, the raison d’entre of the festival is primarily artistic – that is to explore creativity, unmotivated by any other agendas.

“The Festival hopes to harness the creative potential of our diverse cultures. The Dance component is also about multi-disciplinary collaborations. Hence, choreography, dance, music, lighting, set, fashion and graphic design must meet in an explosive creative cauldron” Ramli articulated.

KLIAF 2015 will present new works from Aswara, Dua Space Dance Theatre, Temple of Fine Arts, Alamak Entertainment, Sutra Foundation, MyDance Alliance and UPSI which in turn will collaborate with their own pool of choreographers and artist talents.

The GuoGuang Opera (Taiwan) from Taiwan and Aseema Trust (Chennai) will show how Chinese Opera and Indian folk dances can be relevant and simultaneously be part of current contemporary traditions.

Talented Hema Nandhini (bharatanatyam), Kimball Gallegher (international pianist), Chaing YiLing (soprano), Sangeeta Isvaran and Suresh Kaliyath will give the accent and flavour for a truly comprehensive festival.

There will also be exhibitions at DBKL Auditorium and Istana Budaya as well as free lecture-demonstrations for everyone to participate in.

For detailed information of each programme and for tickets please visit www.klidance.com


Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival: Only the finest this September

June 5, 2015

Have you heard of the perfect storm? It is the coming together of many elements at just the right time. The key is timing. Something too soon or something too late and poof! Nothing happens.

Datin Sunita Rajakumar tells of a perfect storm, which is set to take over Kuala Lumpur in September, kicking off on Merdeka Day itself. It’s been a long time in the making she says. But only last year, the forces began to converge.

“Datuk Ramli Ibrahim and I met with the director general of the National Department for Culture and Arts in January last year. She suggested that it is the artists who should be coming up with arts festivals and not just the government,” Sunita recalls.

This was the genesis of the inaugural Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival (KLIAF). Though there have been numerous government-funded and independent arts festivals in KL in the past, KLIAF aims to be the first cohesive city-wide arts festival of its kind in Kuala Lumpur: a month-long celebration of dance, tradition, music, comedy and literature.

Themed “Rediscovering Our Heritage”, the festival will showcase the diversity of Malaysia and other countries in the region, including Thailand, India, Japan and South Korea. Also known as Diversecity 2015, the KLIAF will run over 20 venues across the city such as Istana Budaya, Auditorium DBKL, Dataran Merdeka and Lake Gardens, to name a few.

Datin Sunita Rajakumar (left) says with many major cities around world running annual arts festival, it’s about time KL had its own arts festival. The Mayor of KL, Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal, expressed his excitement for the inaugural festival. Photo: The Star/Rohaizat Md Darus

Sunita, who is the KLIAF festival director, says with many major cities in the region running their own annual arts festival such as the Singapore Arts Festival, the Hong Kong Arts Festival and even the George Town Festival, it only seemed right for the birth of KLIAF.

“KL needs to be experienced,” she adds.

Sunita reached out to the luminaries of the arts industry, namely jazz musician Michael Veerapen, stand-up comedian Harith Iskander, cultural activist Eddin Khoo, managing director of Institut Terjemahan & Buku Malaysia Khair Ngadiron, and Ramli himself to curate the festival.

“When I told them about the festival, they immediately knew what they wanted to do. I completely trust their ability to pull of captivating performances that will put KL on the world stage for performing arts,” says Sunita.

“We are practitioners in our particular fields. Getting us to curate will bring a different angle to the festival since we know our particular genres very well. In that respect, it’s a good time,” says Veerapan.

Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, curator for the dance programme of KLIAF says the festival is about rediscovering and reengaging tradition in a modern context.

Sunita explains had she approached them several years back, the festival would not have been possible. “Now, everything is coming together at the right time.”

The perfect storm

Speaking about right timing, Harith tells of the idea he and his team had two years ago to organise an international comic festival in October this year.

“We bumped into Sunita one day and she told us about the festival. So, we brought our show forward to September and now we are under the umbrella of the festival,” recalls Harith, referring to the Kuala Lumpur International Comedy Festival (KLICFest).

Happening from Sept 16-23, the KLICFest will feature Harith and 65 comedians from 13 countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam and Malawi.

Some of the other highlights of KLIAF include a music concert with the likes of Zainal Abidin, Dasha Logan, Datuk Khadijah Ibrahim and Indonesian Marcell Siahaan who will be performing with the full National Symphony Orchestra at Dataran Merdeka (Sept 27); first-time performance by Alim Qasimov, a renowned mugham singer from Azerbaijan; Ganjam, a new odissi production by Sutra Foundation and monologue and poetry performances.

Sunita says ticket prices for the main shows will be kept low while many of the events will be free.

To be launched on Merdeka Day, one more element played a crucial role in the birth of KLIAF. “There’s a lot of questioning about the cultural self in Malaysia after close to two decades of having problems with our own cultural politics,” asserts Khoo.

The founder and director of Pusaka points out that there seems to be a “yearning for familiarity, for getting acquainted and really explore self itself”. This has put everyone in the right position to get the festival going, Khoo says, and credits the political will and imagination of the powers that be “which seemed to have converged at this time.”

Harith Iskander and Micheal Veerapen will curate the comedy and music programmes of the festival.

“We are very fortunate that the government understands the huge economic impact this would have,” asserts Sunita. Talking about the importance of festivals such as KLIAF, Ramli says KL needs a “cultural and artistic branding”.

“It’s important to develop something from our own backyard and establish our own sense of pride, identity and self,” adds Ramli, referring to the 12 dance performances commissioned for the festival.

For instance, one of the dance works highlights the plights of four legendary Malay women, namely Tun Teja, Mahsuri, Tun Fatimah and Puteri Saadong, victims of a man’s world.

“These are the kind of works that I find very interesting because there are many areas in our mythic, music and dance tradition that can be reengaged,” he adds.

Engaging culture

Another such work is choreographed by Muhamad Haslam or better known as Alam. Called Pak Pandir Yo, the dance piece is a modern retelling of the classic Pak Pandir folk story, using hip hop, breakdancing and robotic techniques. Alam was the winner of the first So You Think You Can Dance Malaysia.

When asked about the elements he looked out for as a curator, Khoo says “we wanted something marvellous from the Muslim world.”

According toKhoo, the ancient art form of mugham (poetry and musical improvisation) by Azerbaijani Alim Qasimov and qawwali (Sufi devotional music) performance by grand masters Mehr Ali and Sher Ali, two headliners of the traditional genre, really represent what tradition is all about.

He went on to say that one of his main objectives as the curator is to “put enough performances that are so naturally irresistible but get people to think and look at where their own traditions are.”

It is a paradox but a necessary one.

Fret not. Our very own traditional performances will also grace the KLIAF. Expect to be mesmerised by a 100-man Dikir Barat performance, kuda kepang, May Yong and wayang kulit. September will truly be an exciting month for KL

The full programme for the KLIAF will be announcedlater this month. For more information, visit www.diversecity.my



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