Who exactly are we? How different is our world from the one our ancestors knew when they set sail for this land?
Bisikan Monsoon, a dance theatre piece by Kwang Tung Dance Company, attempts to encapsulate the different Nanyang perspectives in a performance that merges physical theatre and dance with narration, text, visual arts, role-playing and music.
It is inspired by the stories our grandparents told us, but viewed through the lens of a generation seemingly far removed from that past. But is this categorisation an over-simplified one? Bisikan Monsoon, which opens at KLPac on April 27, offers space to ponder and reflect. Who are we and where do we belong?
“There are many different elements in this performance, including games we used to play and music videos from the past. We explore our memories in trying to understand our identity and how it relates to the passing of time,” says Amy Len, producer/choreographer, who will also be dancing.
Bisikan Monsoon contemplates the meaning of Nanyang to the youths of today, even as the idea of a Nanyang identity morphs into the more general – and current – overseas Chinese label. Much has been said and written about this evoling of identity, and a formal dance work offers another perspective through a more physical form of expression.
“Bisikan Monsoon draws on our shared memories, so it feels almost like a time capsule where the Nanyang past (history) and present (the performers) meet in the hearts and minds of everyone who is part of the show. We have collected stories and events of the past and incorporated that into this work,” says Len, 43.
Len was trained in contemporary dance at Kwang Tung Dance Company and is now the artistic director of the company. She did not receive any professional dance training but her unique dance choreographic approach and style has garnered her a lot of attention.
She was also awarded with the Best Performer in Dance at the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards in 2005. Apart from Bisikan Monsoon, she is currently focusing in promoting dance training and dance education.
The audience, according to Len, can connect the scenes, characters and events in the multi-disciplinary Bisikan Monsoon like a puzzle, filling in the blanks with their own experiences and imagination. Bisikan Monsoon is fluid in that sense, rich in imagery and symbolism.
The tapir makes an appearance here, a “heavenly creature” that features in many myths and folklore not just from China, but also Japan and Korea. The anemophilous flower, its pollen scattered far and wide by the breeze before setting down roots in a new place, is another point to mull over.
“The tapir has an appearance that is part deer, part pig, and is a herbivore. It is neither fish nor fowl. The character in this performance explores the place it calls home, but it is also a place where it does not really belong. On the other hand, the flower is a metaphor for the common people, fragile but strong, who follow the wind and sail to a place unknown,” explains Len.
Bisikan Monsoon is organised by The Sel and KL Kwang Tung Association Youth Section, with visual design by Fairuz Sulaiman, lightning design by Low Shee Hoe and costume design by Tan Meng Chit.
Besides Len, there will be 10 other dancers who will bring the Nanyang story to life, accompanied by three musicians from Orang Orang Drum Theatre and Gideon Alu8khan Chen, who will serenade the audience with a mix of Western and oriental instruments, including traditional gongs, didgeridoo, electric guitars and drums.
“Live music brings inspiration to the dance choreography and the dancers. Music changes the energy on stage. It is when all the molecules of the body is dancing that we are driven towards liveliness and motivation,” says Len.
But these musicians will be doing more than just playing music, and to divulge anything more might ruin the surprise. So do we really live in a different world than the one our ancestors knew, embracing different values and belief systems, and discarding the old for the new?
Len is intrigued by the outcome of a work like Bisikan Monsoon, one that is inspired by the origins of our identity, and reliant on input from a generation displaced from its source. But how far back do we travel to determine if anything can, or should, stay the same forever?