Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Path of Discovery

DiverseCity 2015
KL International Arts Festival
Performance #1

September 6, 2015
DBKL Auditorium

Years ago, Malaysia ran a tourism promotion titled MALAYSIA TRULY ASIA, starring actress Michelle Yeoh. It spoke of the pouring into one country the best and most distilled essences of South East Asia. While the lustre may have dimmed from 15 years ago when the TV ads were broadcast, the performance I watched almost straight off the flight, seemed to be a theatrical avatar of that spirit

PATH OF DISCOVERY was the second official premiere for DiverseCity a month long festival of live arts presentations which features Malaysia as the ASEAN destination of the year.

I missed the first show on September 5 which was a highly acclaimed contemporary showcase of 6 Malaysian choreographers. Pictures of that will follow in later blogs

PATH OF DISCOVERY contained the piano as the core sound scape while various well known Malaysian artistes from dance, theatre and opera quilted the evening with their presence.

An American pianist - Kimball Gallagher - met the gorgeous and supremely talented Taiwanese pianist - Kai-Yin Huang, and together they began the global journey of "88 KEYS".  Inspired by the 88 keys of the piano, theirs is a collaboration with Myanmar as its geographical centre. Co-founders of the Myanmar Music Festival a few years ago, their presence in Malaysia was to tempt this country's renowned artistes to throw their hats into the improvisation ring.
And they did.

Playing Bach, and other classical composers as scaffolding, the two musicians displayed remarkable virtuosity while remaining sensitive to the presence of the various performers who came in and out of their aural tapestry. Dynamic Sabera Shaikh, Malaysia's best known theatre actor entered with the poem GREETINGS TO THE CONTINENT by Usman Awang. A moving and timely reminder of the ravages of violence and the displacement of humanity, her performance was marked by her expressive voice and simple but effective movement. 

Watching Ramli float onto the stage wearing a white skirt was a "moment". I saw the years of ballet training in his light-footed approach as well as his sinuous body respond to both the piano and the soprano voice of Malaysian artiste YiLing Chaing. Her French songs from the Alpine region were of young girls and boys with their flock. Ramli's soft leg extensions and suggested leaning onto Chaing' s shoulders, as well as his performance on the floor were particularly memorable.  When Gallagher presented his alphabet tribute with each key of the piano suggesting the alphabets of Ramli Ibrahim's name, I felt like I had watched a dance version of Sinatra's famous MY WAY.  Ramli's short improv suggested a dignified way of saying "Been there, done that!"

Give me Ramli in this solo contemporary avatar any day. I love his Odissi but with maturity, and a still supple body, THIS is the space he fills so wonderfully.

As the evening unfolded, it became clear that although the two pianists were the anchor for the show, it was the four Malaysian artistes who were giving it colour and breath. Taking off from the French and Taiwanese cultural tropes of songs to mimic favourite games, young dancer Weijin Loh charmed us with his agility and imaginative use of remote controlled toy car (which crashed into the empty VIP seating area!)  as a response to the four playful musical sections of Jumping Frog, Fishing Toy, Kite and Remote Control Car.
A nice foil to the mature presence of Sabera, Ramli and YiLing, this young man represented the "here and now" of Malaysian dance.

The final piece was a long and ambitious venture attempting to collapse the ideas of music, visual design, performance, acting and dance. Titled PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION, Gallagher played excerpts of French, Russian and European composers as the four actors entered as if  "wandering  into an art gallery" and responding to the changing music with varying pace and mood.

PATH OF DISCOVERY was both an individual's response, via the piano, to the inner artiste in each of us while simultaneously declaring  - "This is Malaysia-local Asian and global". Or as Satyajit Ray famously said of brilliant art - GLOCAL.

About the Title

AMOK is a Malay-Indonesian word ( AMUCK) that originally suggested 'warrior-like". Over the years it has been changed to be spelled AMOK and come to mean wild, destructive and untamed. I have chosen this word for my two week report from Kuala Lumpur during the KL International Arts Festival DiverseCity. So much is happening almost daily and the senses and spirit are truly "running amok"! 

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