British-Peruvian artist José Navarro gets abstract with his merger of ancient dance and puppetry.
THEY were from another time and another place. Spirits of the ancient world. They had the form of men but moved like none. Their physicality, otherworldly. Their agility, bewildering.
Some believe these powers were bestowed upon them by the Devil himself. True or not, nobody knows.
But what makes them dangerous are the two sharp blades that each wields in its hand. Clicking them like castanets, these beings move around to a bizarre rhythm, with only one goal in mind: defeat the opponent.
Of course, this scenario is much less violent than it actually sounds. These dancers, with their own accompaniment of violin and harp, simply endeavour to outdo each other by sheer dexterity, stamina and skill. Each of them has unique steps but as called by custom, they represent the ancient Andean spirits, lending this tradition a deep spiritual significance.
This is called the Scissors Dance, hailing from the highlands of Peru, and this traditional art form that pre-dates even the Spanish invasion of South America and which was inscribed by Unesco in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, will be the central theme of the Ritual Scissors Dance puppet and dance show.
Ritual Scissors Dance is part of The Glamour Fest of Ojugu 2014, a local mini art festival in Kuala Lumpur.
Adapted and performed by José Navarro, a Peruvian-British artist, the 45-minute-long, three-part performance will take centre stage at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre’s Indicine.
Talking about the Scissors Dance, Navarro said: “It’s usually a dance of competition where two or more dancers, each of them with their own musicians, try to outdo each other in their steps and dance skills.
“The dance is done in order to pay respects to Mother Earth and the sacred mountains. As for Ritual Scissors Dance, there isn’t a linear, sequential narrative. The actions are presented in an abstract and symbolic way.”
One may ask what is so arresting or noteworthy about a traditional dance from the Americas. We have our own traditional dances right here at our doorstep. A plethora of them, in fact. So, why even bother with this performance?
To begin with, any traditional dance warrants an audience. The experience itself is transcendental and enlightening. It is almost like embarking on a spiritual journey with fellow human beings who are present at the performance, discovering one’s self and the deep-seated desire to reach the divine.
But Ritual Scissors Dance moves beyond the act of the Peruvian dance itself. Another form of an ancient art is amalgamated with the performance, at once taking the entire show to a whole new level.
“My approach to this dance employs puppetry. What makes puppetry interesting is that the puppet and puppeteer form one entity. There wouldn’t be any animation and manipulation of puppetry without the puppeteer and no puppeteer without the puppet,” Navarro explained.
He added that this concept works on the “idea of mirror image where the puppets copy the dancer and vice versa.”
The first part of Ritual Scissors Dance will see string puppets performing the scissors dance, followed by a shadow puppet theatre and it climaxes with the artist himself presenting the traditional dance.
Unlike the original Scissors Dance, Ritual Scissors Dance will not have its own live accompaniment of harp and violin. Navarro said it follows a pre-recorded music “with elements of fusion. What I did for this performance is that I based it on some existing scissors dance steps and I also used puppetry to recreate the dance.
“So, the idea is that of imitation between the dance, the puppet and the dancer.”
The artist reckoned that Ritual Scissors Dance will truly be a most interesting and novel experience for Malaysian audiences. “I might be right to say that this dance hasn’t been presented to Malaysian audiences yet, at least in this format of mixture and interrelation of art forms. It’s an ancestral dance in Peru, and works around identity and heritage, mixing the encounter of old and new.”
He went on to say that the “symbolism and abstraction of the dance, and how this can be conveyed utilising other mediums to reinforce the familiarity of this dance” will also be of interest for the audiences.
Ritual Scissors Dance gives just that and more with the incorporation of puppetry.
You may not be into the affairs of the spirits, but there is nothing like watching the human body exercising its full potential.
> Ritual Scissors Dance will be on at Indicine, KLPac, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, Kuala Lumpur on Jan 23-25. Shows on Jan 23 are at 8.30pm, and Jan 24 and 25 at 3pm and 8.30pm. Tickets are RM25. Call 03-4047 9001 for bookings. More info, browse: www.klpac.org.