Male dancers grapple with issues of abuse and violence

Sufri Juwahir and Shaun Lim are part of dance performance Kotor, which aims to show that violence and abuse affect men too.
Sufri Juwahir and Shaun Lim are part of dance performance Kotor, which aims to show that violence and abuse affect men too.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

An all-male interdisciplinary dance performance aims to show that abuse and violence are not just women's problems.

Kotor by -Wright Assembly runs from Thursday to Sunday at Stamford Arts Centre, in solidarity with International Women's Day on Friday.

The word "kotor" means "dirty" in Malay and can be used to describe a menstruating woman or a sex worker.

Creative producer Farhanah Diyanah and choreographer Ismail Jemaah developed the idea of male artists responding to physical and sexual violence and countering the idea that only women are responsible for standing up for women's rights.

Farhanah, 30, says: "I wanted the performance to have an all-male cast. I want to live in a world where I can co-exist with men who can deal with these issues."

On another level, Ismail, 29, says: "It's not about gender. It affects everyone. When you talk about rape, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, men do face these as well. So the first thing on my mind was that we shouldn't talk about it as a one-sided issue."

Work began on Kotor in April last year. The work responds to texts from local poet Natalie Wang's debut collection, The Woman Who Turned Into A Vending Machine, published last year by Math Paper Press.

  • BOOK IT / KOTOR

    WHERE: Rumah P7:1SMA, 03-01 Stamford Arts Centre, 155 Waterloo Street

    WHEN: Thursday and Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 3 and 8pm; Sunday, 3pm

    ADMISSION: $25 (standard), $22 (concession) from kotor.docket.sg

In the titular poem, Wang considers female labour, especially domestic chores, and the frightening reality of how many ignore the human needs of the person doing the work.

Sounds by multimedia artist Aqilah Misuary captures the chink of coins and rattle of vending machines dispensing objects.

Performers include dancers Sufri Juwahir and Shaun Lim, as well as Kaykay Nizam, a theatre-maker with a dance background.

The performance space is the third-floor studio of dance group P7:1SMA, which overlooks the Sri Krishnan and Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temples.

Kaykay says the sights and sounds associated with both form part of the production design.

"It's quite refreshing to perform in a space that's not the traditional black box. The air is more vibrant," adds the 29-year-old.

He says the original title of the show was Perempuan Kotor, or "dirty woman", but the team decided to "make it more universal". After all, Kotor is about breaking with the idea that violence, abuse and gender bias are mainly "women's problems".

Ismail adds that changing the status quo begins with personal change. Artists cannot expect a show to change the world, but they can change themselves.

"We have to believe in it so the audience can come in," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2019, with the headline 'Male dancers grapple with issues of abuse and violence'. Print Edition | Subscribe