Orang Orang Drum Theatre's new show inspired by sape dreamscapes

  • Culture
  • Wednesday, 02 Oct 2019

Orang-Orang Drum members rehearsing, with the song's 'conductor' performing in the middle. Photo: SAMUEL ONG/The Star

Loud rhythmic drumming shakes the room. About half a dozen performers then beat out a tune on Chinese drums, gongs and various other percussive instruments. Then the distinctive - magical - strings of the sape (a traditional lute from Sarawak) joins the action.

Somehow all the instruments in this busy studio room blend beautifully together.

This was the scene at a recent rehearsal for Laguku 2.0, the latest show from KL-based Orang Orang Drum Theatre.

It’s also the fifth local production from this hard-working group, which specialises in “drum theatre”, combining drum music and theatrical elements.

Laguku 2.0 plays at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) in Petaling Jaya, starting Oct 4.

Orang Orang Drum Theatre (OODT) assistant artistic director Zyee Leow Sze Yee says that Laguku 2.0 looks to expand the group’s signature drumming style, with a mix of many other elements, including gamelan and sape.

“Our background is Chinese drums. That’s our core sound. But we have also studied many (traditional) rhythmic patterns and incorporated instruments from various parts of Malaysia. This is also the first time we are using a sape in our show,” says Zyee.

Vocalist and sape player Rosemary Colony Anak Joel Dunstan, from the Sarawakian all-female sape group Ilu Leto (“We, the Ladies” in the language of the Kenyah people) will join OODT on stage.

Laguku 2.0 is a follow-up to Laguku, one of the group’s early shows at DPAC in 2015, which marked out its potential. An album recording of Laguku was also released.

The upcoming OODT show, running for 90 minutes, aims to celebrate “togetherness”.

Damien Leow is aiming to create a showcase ringing with percussive ambiance. Photo: The Star/Samuel Ong

In a theatre space setting, Zyee looks as OODT as a platform to break and blur boundaries. OODT, founded in 2013 by Zyee and her husband Boyz Chew, has come a long way since its first production Hidup Ini Senget (2014), which won two Boh Cameronian Arts awards in 2015 (best group performance and best music and sound design).

The group, a mainstay in the local performing arts and festival scene, has also performed in several folk-based festivals and participated in art exchange programmes abroad. From Taiwan to Indonesia right to Belgium and Denmark, OODT has kept itself busy.

The last two months have seen OODT playing without a break. In August, it played summer (folk and dance) festivals in Eastern Europe, including the Sziget Festival in Budapest, Hungary, and the Interetno Festival in Subotica in Serbia. It also made it home in time to play the Padi Music Festival (in Selangor) and the Pangkor Island Festival (in Perak) last month.

The Laguku 2.0 show features the group’s 20-person ensemble, which will play an assortment of gongs, the gamelan, xylophones and “kuling tangan” (a traditional instrument from Sabah). The setlist includes Tuyang Sits In The Corner (tuyang is the Kenyah word meaning friend), sung by Rosemary, and Indonesian folk song Ayo Mama, as well as an overture, which will feature all the show’s instruments together.

I Am Your Conductor is another song we are excited about. In this piece made for Chinese drums, we want to explore what these drums can evoke in terms of atmosphere and ambiance,” says Laguku 2.0 production manager Damien Leow Hui Min, who is also Zyee’s brother.

Apart from touring Europe, this Laguku 2.0 project has been priority for OODT this year.

“We started this project by giving our group members a chance to contribute to the show’s direction. We asked them to create a narrative, or a piece of music. From there, we slowly developed this work,” says Zyee.

This upcoming show is influenced by LaguWalk, a field project that OODT did while in Sarawak last year. It visited various communities in Kuching to collect stories and instruments, while also performing and connecting with local music groups.

OODT picked up the idea of using the sape when Rosemary, a vocal teacher, mentored the group on Sarawakian music.

Zyee also adds that each song will feature a “conductor”, a performer who will act as the “main character”. This conductor, usually wearing a mask, will add theatrical elements to the Laguku 2.0 show.

“Drum theatre is relatively very new (in Malaysia), and with every production, we are always experimenting, so we can understand this style of production more,” says Damien.

Zyee also mentions that drum theatre offers endless possibilities, giving the viewer a unique theatre experience.

“Some people think drums are just very loud, and make a lot of noise. But drum theatre is different. We’re using these drums to tell a story, to build a rhythmic journey on stage,” says Zyee.

Laguku 2.0 is showing at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC), H-01, Empire Damansara, Jalan PJU 8/8, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya in Selangor from Oct 4-6. Showtime: 8.30pm, with additional 3pm shows on Oct 5 and 6. Tickets are RM68 (normal) and RM48 (concession). More info: www.dpac.com.my. FB: Orang Orang Drum Theatre.

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