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.