Monday, December 8, 2008

Mak Yong Article in NST Monday 9 December 2008

NST Online » Features 2008/12/07
ENTERTAINMENT: Mak Yong for all

Some of the Mak Yong dancers.
Some of the Mak Yong dancers.

Kudos go to certain quarters for staging and performing in the recent Mak Yong Extravaganza, writes ZULKIFLI MOHAMAD, but he feels more has to be done to take the art form to a higher level.

A scene from Mak Yong Extravaganza.
A scene from Mak Yong Extravaganza.
MY attention was focused on the question “How did you know about the Mak Yong Extravaganza?”

I was filling up a questionaire for the audience on the opening night of the recent event at Tunku Abdul Rahman Auditorium, Malaysia Tourism Centre, Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur.

The event banners along Jalan Damansara caught my eye, but frankly, there just weren’t enough. 

Those in Kelantan and Terengganu are familiar with Mak Yong unlike other Malaysians or the expat community and tourists.
Two rows of girls garbed in Mak Yong pemeles headdresses and Malay ceremonial costumes, like young princesses of ancient times, were a welcome sight (probably to greet dignitaries) on opening night.

The sound of rebab music filled the air, together with the scent of sweet jasmine flowers. 

Earlier that evening, a fellow playwright asked me: “Why extravaganza? Extravaganza is too foreign to be connected with Mak Yong, a legendary Malay dance theatre.” I couldn’t argue with those remarks.

The event, organised by National Department for Culture and Arts under the Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage, saw four performances by different groups, and lecture-workshops by well-known teachers in the field. 

Though there were four scheduled from Nov 27-30, starting with Dewa Indera, Indera Dewa (by Kumpulan Mak Yong Kijang Emas, Kelantan), Endeng Tejeli (Kumpulan Mak Yong Seri Nilam Istana Budaya), Raja Tangkai Hati (Kumpulan Mak Yong Dewa Muda) and Nik Kecik Dewa Muda (Kumpulan Mak Yong Aswara), Tari Mengadap Rebab, the overture of all Mak Yong performances, was performed by all four groups, accompanied by spirited rebab master Che Amat (Awang Omar). 

The stage was filled with at least 50 performers even though Mak Yong is considered a dying art form. But on the other hand, that square proscenium stage was way too small to fit in 50 dance-actors, plus the eight-piece music ensemble. 

The eight striking blue-yellow-white batik cloth pieces that dropped from the ceiling to the stage floor were distracting. The hanging cloths stayed throughout the four performances, which was not necessary as the cyclorama at the back could be used for multiple purposes, especially with its changeable colours, that could complement each scene. 

The two roving headlights used during the suspenseful scenes were totally unnecessary and disturbing, as they were directed towards the audience. 

Kijang Emas, the first group from Kelantan, was quite impressive, considering that all the performers were new students, including the musicians, except for the rebab player (who is also the Adiguru or Mak Yong teacher for the group).

This is exactly what Unesco requires after putting Mak Yong under its Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity list — preservation work should be continued at its birthplace, Kelantan. Bravo to JKKN for championing the teaching of arts that is banned in its own state.

Congratulations also to Aswara (National Academy of Arts and Heritage) for making Mak Yong one of its compulsory subjects, together with Wayang Kulit, Randai, Bangsawan and Mek Mulong. Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris is to be lauded for introducing Mak Yong as one of the theatrical expressions and so is Istana Budaya for promoting Mak Yong among non-Kelantanese performers. 

Classical performances derive from ancient culture and languages; therefore they have their innuendos. If we can appreciate Italian, French and German opera or Japanese Kabuki, why not Kelantanese dialect that belongs to the Langkasukan culture from the second century. 

Having said that, we should not expect the audience to understand the language of Mak Yong instantly. That is why the promoters and producers of cultural production should write synopses in both Malay and English.

It is quite difficult to have running subtitles for a performance as a lot of its parts are improvised, especially the peran’s (court jester) role. 

At the extravaganza, the audience could see that the two screens on both sides of the stage were not utilised fully, so these would have been perfect for the translation. After all, the extravaganza is not just for those who understand Kelantanese, but for all Malaysians.

Perhaps it is also one of the intentions of the organiser to get the four participating groups to learn from — and not compete with — one another. 

In that four nights, the audience witnessed four of the 12 main stories of Mak Yong. But in this age of globalisation, mere delivery of the songs, lines and dances of Mak Yong is not enough if we want to bring Mak Yong to a higher level and the world stage. 

Dr Zulkifli Mohamad is active in promoting the arts through the KL Fringe Festival, productions, collaborations, writings and teachings.

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