DISQUALIFIED disqualifies Rainbow

A collaboration work between Vehaara Arts and Ti-Amo produced a dance competition entitled DISQUALIFIED: Avoid it! in aid of PERSAMA the Love Autism Society of Malaysia. It was a duet dance competition where the audition was held in Ipoh, KL and Johor Bharu. After a round of prelude and a semi-final, the grand finale took place on the 27th December 2015 having 10 finalists. The whole event starting from the auditions was self funded by the two organisers. Yes, self funded. With a concert setting, the event began. It was a beginning of an important mile stone in the Malaysian Indian dance scene.

DISQUALIFIED was “disqualifying” Astro Vaanavil’s reality dance competition. Astro Vaanail has produced several reality dance programme over the years (I should stop here). Ravin, the mastermind behind the event consciously resisted the usual rules and regulation practiced by Astro Vaanavil in their reality dance programme. In DISQUALIFIED, the contestants were encouraged and allowed to choose their own songs and music, their own costumes, their best genre of dance, and their presentation. Here i would like to share my experience involved in several of Astro Vaanavil’s dance programmes as a judge where I learnt that the contestants were “instructed” what to dance (genre), how to dance (smile and dance), songs and music were given, advised them on make-ups and  what to wear (costumes). I speculate that Astro Vaanavil conforms to the government’s idea of a “model minority”. Important note to be taken is that Astro Vaanavil is the one and only Indian channel where it airs 90% (not accurate) of South Indian TV programmes in it.

Without the Astro Vaanavil’s “standard” sets of rules and regulations in DISQUALIFIED, I noticed something interesting. Dancers were very “real” on stage and their creativity was highlighted. And there it was,  a space to show talents and ideas. (What more could a dancer ask for?) Although it was a competition in nature, i watched some very interesting dance pieces. Some which stood out was....
Shivalayaz: portraying the agony an Indian women while going through the death of her husband. The 3 minute piece was compact and cleverly choreographed. The two different yet contrasting emotions in their movement were simply amazing. The female dancer wrapped herself in a white cloth resembling the “costume” of a widow in Indian culture was heart breaking.

G-Sparkling girls: Two teenage girls challenged the dominant narrative in the patriarchal Indian culture. The girls not only wore body revealing costumes, they also played the role of the Yama (God of death). With a contemporary touch of Maleficent horns, the girl showed a narrative of feminism in their piece. With the Indian culture which gives more importance to men, these two girls showed bravery in execution ideas.

Daimond Wings: this political piece portrayed the Sri Lankan refugees leaving homeland due to the war in 2009 which saw deaths and many displaced. These two young boys re-enacted the journey as refugee using interesting movements caught the hearts of many in the hall. It was very refreshing to watch such new ideas in dance amongst the youths in Malaysia. However, their set and props were not helpful in their piece.

I personally believe that these dance ideas should be aired on TV to encourage creative thinking amongst viewers. I believe media plays a big role in the every society which if managed wisely, could expose Malaysian Indian to new ideas in dance. Not having T Rajendran doing beat-boxing on TV (there, I said it).

Shamini, Logeswaran, Michael Rao, and the adorable husband-wife Darshaini and Magen whom are all Malaysian Indian celebrities performed a song as guest performance which made the event merrier.  I learnt that these artistes performed pro-bono. Yes, pro-bono. This is a very good encouragement to the Malaysian Indian arts scene.

As most Malaysian Indians public event, this event also had speeches. Founder of PERSAMA, the tall, dark and gorgeous looking Thila Laxshman gave a brief speech about understanding autism have embarked on several series to enlighten the public on autism. The powerful speech right after she sang her famous Jananam single. Thila gracefully also encouraged the audiences to support local arts scene. For more details and support to PERSAMA, one can visit her page on Facebook : Thila Laxshman. This woman is amazing. After a speech to expose such a good course, there was a short “interference” because life is that well balanced. A Datin was called on stage and she promoted her upcoming film. (Why? I don’t know). This beautiful yet elegant Datin encouraged the finalist in the competition and ended the speech with “the talents here are so good that it looks like an Astro standard show” (Who died and made Astro the benchmark of a dance show?)

The organizer's intention to resist the “norm” set by Astro Vaanavil was evident in the dance works created by the finalists. However, I believe that (1) the whole idea of competition should also be changed. Winning prizes are always the biggest attractions in competition, and also very tricky to judge such a complex mix of dances. Malaysian Indian youths (2) should be encouraged to resist from overt influence from South India Tamil film songs. The strong visuals from Tamil film often become reference points in local dance works. Malaysian Indian dancers (3) should spend more time in dance techniques be it classical, folk, or contemporary. This would be rewarding in their movement compositions. Lastly (as for now), (4) male dancers should resist from wearing heavy and “fair” makeovers. Why would we of all people portray colour prejudice? Why would a dancer try to look fair? Only to realize that they have different tones from face, neck and arms. This “fair” thing must go.


These are some of my observations during the event and I really believe that it’s vital to encourage the Malaysian Indians on dance and identity. This event showcased some amazing ideas in dance. With this I hope the ball will keep rolling. I congratulate the organizers. This is just a beginning, a good start to reflect the future of Malaysian Indian dance scene. 

The End of 2014

 A graduate from the National Arts Academy (ASWARA), Lex is currently the Choreographer-In-Residence at The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac).
As the resident choreographer, Lex has produced many dance works as well as choreographed for a wide variety of production ranging from choral productions to plays to large scale musicals. He is passionate about combining both traditional and contemporary elements in his creations which was evident in Kaki Blue the Musical (2009) and Nitya Sumangali (2011). Some of his choreography credits include ADAM the Musical, The Last Five Years, Malaysian Girls, Paper Crane, Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Broken Bridges, Marrying Me and most recently Sinbad the Musical.
Besides that, Lex established a popular contemporary dance platform with The Actors Studio called KIV which has been running for the past four years and has showcased exciting new works by emerging Malaysian choreographers. In 2011, he accompanied the Malaysian contingent to the World Choir Games in Shaoxing, China where they won a Gold Medal in the Folklore category. In 2012, he presented a paper on Malaysian traditional dance and music with Susanna Saw from the Young Choral Academy at the KODALY Symposium in Brisbane, Australia.
Lex can also be seen on stage as an actor, dancer, and singer and was awarded the Bintang Irama 1Malaysia by RTM & JKKN in 2010. His appearance include the The Actors Studio's adaptation of Rashomon directed by Joe Hasham OAM as well as Shingo Tokihiro's showcase Dreams of Time. Recently, Lex worked on Tennessee Williams A Street Car Named Desire a dance interpretation directed by Joe Hasham OAM.

Lex @ World Choir Games,ShaoXing, China 15-21 july 2010

The concept of calling into being an event like the World Choir Games, taking the Olympic ideal into the arts, arose from the dream to peacefully unify singing people and nations connected by song in a fair competition. The idea should inspire people to experience the strength of interaction which is able to challenge personality and community equally through the power of singing together. No matter on which artistic level one is working – whether singing for pleasure or reaching for artistic stars. The World Choir Games are an international choir festival taking place biannually on different continents.
This idea of the World Choir Games is carried out through the personal experience of millions of people throughout the whole world who sing in choirs daily and internalize and pass on human ideals through song. The idea is instrumental in helping people overcome conflicts and offering, through their social interaction, an example for life. In the future, choirs from all over the world will come together regularly to the World Choir Games, in order to contribute to understanding and peace among nations. All participants celebrate this amazing festival of music, as music is the common language of the world!

World Choir Games @ ShaoXing,China
2 Golds for Malaysia from Young KL Singers (YKLS)

MAHAKAVI the press play button

MAHAKAVI by Asthana Arts
17th April 2010, Auditorium Taman Budaya, Kuala Lumpur

Mahakavi was a production based on the Bharati (a poet) from India and his works. His poet compositions helped rally the masses to support the Indian independence movement in South India.

After India’s independence, many of Bharati’s poems were adapted into songs as lyrics in many Tamil cinema numbers. Some of it was also sung in individual album. This current genre of music by using the poems was the music used in this production.

The show consists of dance and poem recitals or perhaps readings. There were nine dance pieces in between the narrations and the poem recitals. All the nine dance pieces were very interesting yet have wonderful glimpse of narrating the inner meanings of each poems. This shows the deep thought and understandings of the choreographers and performers.

The show started with the scene showing the death of the poet. Having dancers in all white carrying a corpse was an emotional sight. This piece became an entry point to further know about the contribution of the great poet.

Adjacent to the first piece, there was two other dance pieces which caught attention. “Sutrum Vizhi Chudar” and “Panchali Sabatham”. The poem Sutrum Vizhi Chudar which was adapted to a beautifully sung song was danced by two well trained dancers. The duet showed the mastering of rhythm and expression fused with some modern dance vocabularies. The merge of the beautiful song and the dance elevated the piece to an ethereal state. I would rank this as the best dance piece of the night.

The other was the Panchali Sabatham which was danced by five male and one female dancer. The story of a king whom looses his kingdom including his wife in gambling was cleverly choreographed using mainly expressions along with some simple movements. Although, there were no unisons movements, the piece was interesting as the legendary story was conveyed in a rare execution. Two thumbs up to the dancer played the character of the Saguni.  

All dance pieces in the showcase be it classical, fusion or contemporary was at its best.

However, I was perplexed between poem recitals and poem readings as the three artists whom were on stage to recite the poems read the poems from a Q-card they all hold in their hand. This was noticeable by the audience thus failed to deliver the emotion content and flow of the poems. Memorizing the poems in advance would be a wiser act.

Besides that, the poem readings botched to gel and merge with the dances. Therefore it was seen as two different elements in the showcase performed one after the other. More attentions should be given to the transitions between the dance pieces and the poems.

The show sidetracked after the final piece of the night when there was a speech by the honorary guest of the showcase. The objective of the production diverted further when there was some political remarks content of the speech. None of the audience expected that sort of a finale piece, I guess. Although there were some production’s commentary, it would be wiser if those sorts of notes were given only to the casts and members of the production rather than to the public. May be the speech was part of the protocol. Guess, that’s what politic is all about, huh?

In general, the showcase had some mind-blowing dance pieces danced by fine dancers which I think have potentials of standing on its own without the poem recitals (or readings). This showcase reflected the enrichment of the performing arts scene in the country. I’m seeing Asthana Arts moving towards the right path, keep it up.

Black File

Black File
Whoever thought that dance could address social issues?
Lakshman Balakrishnan did.
With Black File, he addressed the issue of injustice with dance. At the beginning of the dance, sound clips of people saying their names brought the audience into a state of nervousness while three men walked about the stage, occasionally pausing and raising their hands, symbolizing the act of pledge (patriotism) and imprisonment.
Abruptly, the sound clips stopped and in came a progression of rock music, during which their dances included movements of falling and hitting the ground, a symbol of oppression and grievances.
The highlight of the dance was when these three dancers appeared at the left side of the stage, laid on the floor, covered themselves with white cloths (a symbol of death and ironically, peace), and painted themselves with red paint (a symbol of blood). At the right side of the stage were four other dancers who dressed like chefs holding ladles in their hands. In front of these four dancers was a table with a variety of plastic fruits and vegetables, covered with a huge white cloth.

The chefs took away the cloth, looked at their hands while they transferred their ladles from one hand to the other with a fanatic and psychotic look at their faces, and then, with a horrifying and angry glance, they forcefully hit the fruits and vegetables with their ladles four times. This continued for another four times, and quickly, they covered the “spoils” with the white cloth and burst out in an evil laughter together.
While one’s interpretation may vary from the other, all can concur that the main gist was protest towards injustice. One may even go to the lengths of questioning the efforts of the authorities with regards to injustice. Perhaps and hopefully through this dance, awareness about injustice can be successfully created, questions will be raised, and answers will be the inspiration of pursuance.

By Jonathan Chu (www.asiadancechannel.com)