From coffee shop talk to dance production

Sebungkus | Common Ground explores seemingly opposing concepts that are actually interdependent, like two sides of a see-saw.
Sebungkus | Common Ground explores seemingly opposing concepts that are actually interdependent, like two sides of a see-saw.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The idea for multi-disciplinary dance production Sebungkus | Common Ground by Azpirasi Dance Group started from conversations in a coffee shop.

Artistic director Ismail Jemaah, 27, remembers talking about "everything under the sun" with friends and fellow arts practitioners late at night, sharing opinions and beliefs about what drives them.

"Even if these opinions are the opposite of one another, they exist in the same space," says Ismail.

These coffee shop sessions have evolved into something more - a dance production that explores seemingly opposing concepts that are actually interdependent, like two sides of a see-saw.


  • WHERE: Emily Hill, 11 Upper Wilkie Road (nearest MRT station is Little India)

    WHEN: May 19, 7.30 and 9pm. May 20, 3, 4.30, 7.30 and 9pm

    ADMISSION: $20 (go to


"The idea is not to balance on the see-saw. At different times, it might be weighted more to one side or the other," he says.

The show runs on May 19 and 20 at Emily Hill in Upper Wilkie Road. It will take place on both floors of the colonial building, including on the stairs, as well as outside.

The hour-long show consists of roughly five segments exploring concepts such as tradition and modernity, freedom and structure, and education and experience.

"Sebungkus", or "one package", refers to how various dishes are wrapped together in a packet of nasi padang - unified despite being different.

The show is part of the Melentur Buluh series of intimate dance works by Azpirasi, a 17-year-old Malay dance company that specialises in both traditional and contemporary dance. This is the third edition of the series, which started in 2013.

"Melentur buluh" is taken from a Malay idiom about nurturing a bamboo while it is still a shoot. For the dance company, this series is about nurturing its younger members, from choreographers and dancers to stage managers and producers.

The 12 artists involved in Sebungkus | Common Ground are aged between 17 and their mid-30s. Azpirasi's artistic director, Azmi Juhari, 53, is the production's adviser.

There are nine dancers, including Ismail and Norhaizad Adam, 30, who are co-choreographers of the work.

The show also includes elements of theatre, visual art and percussive music with the involvement of three guest artists - Nurul Jannah Jamaludin, 29, a theatre practitioner; Ridwan Ramli, 33, a percussionist and sound designer; and Nazerul Khairy Ben-Dzulkefli, 30, an experiential artist.

The idea is to blur the boundaries between the different art forms. For example, the dancers will also deliver lines and the guest artists will perform together with the dancers. The smell of incense in the space will reflect artist Nazerul's practice.

The shows are intentionally kept small - each can accommodate about 50 people - to reduce the distance between the performers and the audience.

Audience members will be led around the space, sharing "that same bubble" as the performers, instead of "there being a fourth wall", says Ismail.

"I hope that they will enjoy and be part of the show, instead of coming with the expectation to just watch a show," he says.

"We won't know how the audience will respond. But we like the idea of that rawness. There is sincerity to it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline 'From coffee shop talk to dance production'. Print Edition | Subscribe