By : ZULKIFLI MOHAMAD
A traditional dance performance presented by the Petronas Performing Arts Group.
By and large, ZULKIFLI MOHAMAD is impressed with the performances of the Petronas Performing Arts Group in Gema & Rasa, which featured new choreography and works. And yet, something’s amiss.
IT is a nice feeling going to the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, home of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO), to watch a traditional dance performance.
It gives the impression that Petronas has been contributing to the preservation, development and promotion of Malaysian culture.
It also gives the idea that traditional local performances have reached a level alongside the acclaimed performances of the MPO.
It is a rare treat to watch a traditional dance performance in Kuala Lumpur these days, unless you go to Saloma Bistro and Restaurant where you dine with busloads of tourists.
Performances of the traditional kind have, over the years, been reduced to being part of tourist packages; not that we should avoid eating with guests from abroad, but such presentations cater to a particular audience and with a different purpose altogether.
Gema & Rasa promised spellbinding performances, with new choreography and premiered works by the talented artistes of the Petronas Performing Arts Group (PPAG).
The PPAG presented 10 young choreographers in new works, blended and inspired by traditional Malay forces such as the asli, inang, joget, masri, Borneo ethnic and Indian classical and Chinese dances.
Under the capable hands of producer Hartini Abdullah, Gema & Rasa raised the platform for young artistes to present their talents in choreography and music.
Hartini’s noble intention aside, the existence of PPAG itself is indeed crucial in preserving our heritage in the arts.
After almost two decades, it has produced many important dance and cultural works such as Raja Sakti, Payung Mahkota, Puteri Gunung Ledang, Malim Deman, and mak yong productions with Seniman Negara Khadijah Awang in Raja Muda and Raja Besar.
PPAG has also developed its repertoire in contemporary dance with productions such as Mahsuri and Raja Bersiung as well as Malay musical theatre with the performance of Usman Awang’s work Uda dan Dara, directed by Datuk Rahim Razali.
The 10 new traditional dance works performed that night were Jaran Anyaman, Inang Capai, Tari Aduhai Sayang, Varissha, Rejang Be’ah, Tari Gobek, Nguntik Io, Qian Yi, Masri Zafarina and Joget Adik Manis.
Meanwhile, the five newly composed songs — Seloka Kasih, Pupus, Kasih Dalam Kenangan, Diamku Ke Sana and Terlupa, Luka — were blends of creative works that drew influences from the Malay asli and pop genres.
The sing-song format of lagu puisi was adopted in Pupus, not something you hear every day.
Then there was Kasih Dalam Kenangan, composed by Mohd Rashid Dahari — a special tribute to quintessential corporate figure Tan Sri Azizan Zainal Abidin — who died five years ago.
Diamku Ke Sana, by Ahmad Muriz Che Rose, was dedicated to the young victims of Gaza. The intention was good, but having it in a dazzling show with traditional dance and music performances made it a bit awkward.
At this point, it seemed that Gema & Rasa tried to cover too many things in one show. Maybe its direction as a variety show has got something to do with the many aspects of performances, but I felt that it deserved a clearer artistic direction and dramaturgy.
Presenting traditional dance works from various ethnic groups in Malaysia is commendable but one has to be careful with creating “new” traditional work or contemporary work based on tradition.
The wrong understanding and use of costumes, accessories and dance gestures will only result in the show being kitsch.
Each ethnic group has its own cultural right, part of the reason why one has to be sensitive about mixing things of different cultures, especially when one maintains the same name for a dance such as Rejang Be’ah.
That night, unfortunately, the piece suffered from misinterpretation of the finer details at the hands of the choreographer.
I think one should change the title of the dance when one has interfered with its philosophy and intention.
As a performance group supported by the wealth of the national petroleum company, evolving into the third millennium, PPAG members should aspire to be a national dance company based on indigenous dances, similar to what the Philippines has produced in the 1970s with the Bayanihan Dance.
And with the big line-up in indigenous music orchestra, PPAG should have already become a well-known group of musicians producing and composing music based on our rich sources such as ghazal, gamelan, wayang, keroncong or even muzik asli.
The writer teaches Arts and Culture Theories at Akedemi Seni Budaya dan warisan kebangsaan and is active in the development of tradition-based performance and promotion of contemporary arts.