Celebrating Malay dance heritage

Persadaku Artiste Seni Budaya performing a new dance, Sambutlah. The Malay dance group is one of eight participating in Akar Subur.
Persadaku Artiste Seni Budaya performing a new dance, Sambutlah. The Malay dance group is one of eight participating in Akar Subur.PHOTO: DANIEL NEO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Akar Subur highlights old traditional dances and new pieces inspired by them

The Malay dance extravaganza Akar Subur, which celebrates heritage pieces as well as looks to the future, is back for a second year with 24 works this weekend. They will be presented over two hours, with each lasting between three and six minutes.

There are three types of choreography. The first will be a presentation of a traditional dance taken from the repertoire of the oldest Malay dance group in Singapore, Sriwana, which was founded in 1955. The second will be a new traditional piece inspired by the first, and the third will be contemporary choreography also inspired by the repertoire piece.

The eight traditional Malay dance pieces from Sriwana were created between 1950 and the 1980s. These include classics such as Selamat Datang (Welcome) and Ayam Jantan (Rooster).

"The idea was to look into the past at the repertoire dances of Sriwana, which are part of our traditional dance heritage, and make them known to the rest of the Malay dance groups," says Dinie Dasuki Osman, 27, one of 16 choreographers involved in the show.

"The platform is also to bring choreographers together to learn from one another and create fresh and exciting works."

Akar Subur, to be held at the Malay Heritage Centre, is presented by Era Dance Theatre, with the participation of seven other Malay dance groups in Singapore. The other companies are Sriwana, Azpirasi Dance Group, Kirana Seni, Perkumpulan Seni, Persadaku Artiste Seni Budaya, Atrika Dance Company and Peneroka Daya Tari .

The last two are involved for the first time this year.

Akar Subur was launched last year by the Singapore Malay Dance Committee, which aims to help develop Malay dance in Singapore.

For the young choreographers taking part in Akar Subur, the opportunity to create new works based on the repertoire works of Sriwana is an exciting challenge.

They underwent a series of intensive workshops to learn about traditional Singapore Malay dance and choreography for the show.

Juhari Jushairil Mohd Zaid, 26, a dancer from Sriwana, was tasked to create a new traditional work inspired by the repertoire work Tari Istana (Palace Dance). He found it hard initially to create a dance that reinterprets a traditional Malay piece and yet is not contemporary.

"In my first attempt at re-creating Tari Istana (Palace Dance), I used the same song as the original and added a lot of steps. Then I realised I had to break away," he says.

"The classic pieces of Malay dance choreography have a simplicity to them and they managed to last till now. Who knows, maybe we might be able to create works which will be part of a new repertoire."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2016, with the headline 'Celebrating Malay dance heritage'. Print Edition | Subscribe