In character : Theatre veteran Pearlly Chua totally immersing herself in the script as she performed a monologue from Ang Tao Mui.
Three decades on, local arts outfit Five Arts Centre is still shining bright and smiling wide.
IT was a thrilling convergence of past and future at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Five Arts Centre, one of the most prominent performing arts collectives in the country.
Featuring fine wine, good food and friendly faces from far and wide, the celebration was a nostalgic look at the arts company’s many milestones, as well as an exciting glimpse of things to come.
Held at its homebase in Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday, the event marked the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Five Arts Centre, as well as the 10th anniversary of the passing of one of its members, prominent theatre critic and director Datuk Krishen Jit.
“A lot of people have been asking me, how do I feel about lasting so long, how do I feel about an arts company reaching 30. We definitely didn’t think about lasting. We just thought about what’s the next project?” said Marion D’Cruz, Five Arts Centre executive producer and founding member. “And another question I’ve been asked is: how does it feel to be 30? And let me tell you. It feels damn good! I’m 60, which means half my life has been Five Arts Centre. And it feels. Damn. Good!”
The evening was unexpectedly marred by bad weather: a sudden thunderstorm meant much improvisation was needed to adapt the outdoor-based celebrations into a mostly indoor event. Fortunately, this was carried out without a hitch: you don’t get to 30 without learning to deal with unexpected hiccups, after all.
The celebration opened with a performance by contemporary gamelan ensemble Rhythm in Bronze, previously part of the Five Arts Centre. Dressed impeccably in white, the group’s members put on a visually and aurally delightful show, performing while lit up light-boxes dimmed and intensified with the music’s tempo.
Rhythm in Bronze performed the song On Ayak Ayak, which was arranged by Sunetra Fernando, and interspersed with a monologue on duality, Aku Perempuan by Nam Ron. This was followed by a contemporised version of Teuku Umar’s Suntuk Masa, accompanied by dancers.
The night featured excerpts, songs and readings from many of the Five Arts Centre’s most iconic productions, such as Dua Tiga Dalang Berlari, Bunga Manggar Bunga Raya and In 1969, all performed by prominent local personalities. These performances took place in a room in the centre’s office, and channelled via a live feed to party guests outside.
Among the performances were Kubhaer T. Jethwani’s reciting The IC Poem from Lebih Kecoh, Pearlly Chua performing a monologue from Ang Tao Mui, Chin San Sui doing an excerpt from Lady White, and Ali Alasri and Mervyn Raj’s rendition of the song Gadis Dikuburan, from the hit musical Uda Dan Dara.
One of the night’s most memorable moments, however, was activist Ivy Josiah and lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan reading from The Cord, which was the Five Arts Centre’s first ever show. The two, who were part of the original production in 1984, revisited their old roles to much applause.
“In the beginning we thought we would just ham it up,” said Ivy. “But reading the play again, I could feel all the emotions I felt when I first performed it.”
“It made us remember Krishen,” said Ambiga, referring to the play’s late director.
“He really terrified us, but he brought out the best in us.”