Japanese dancer's new work merges freestyle and Kelantanese healing ritual Main Puteri


  • Arts
  • Thursday, 24 Oct 2019

Since her first visit to Malaysia in 2012, Yamada has been contributing the cultural exchange between Malaysia and Japan through dance by conducting workshops for students, creating new pieces with local dancers and also inviting them to perform in Japan. Photo: Filepic

What does freestyle dance and traditional Kelantanese healing ceremony Main Puteri have in common? To the person on the street, probably nothing much.

But to Japanese choreographer and dancer Un Yamada, it feels completely natural to put these two dance forms together and see what emerges.

This weekend, the Un Yamada x Kelantanese Traditional Music Collaboration Project will take place at the National Academy of Arts Culture and Heritage (Aswara) in Kuala Lumpur. This cross-cultural series is organised by The Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur together with Aswara.

It is a culmination of a collaborative project that kicked off Oct 16 and included a field trip to Kelantan where Yamada researched the Main Puteri art form and interviewed its practitioners.

“Dance and music are what humans have been longing for in many different ways since ancient times. This project serves as a challenge to approach the performing arts from this perspective. The showcase will have both dance and music, with elements from Japanese and Malaysian culture. I am always attracted by what is very far from my own culture and my own common sense, it makes me lose my balance,” says Yamada.

The other participants in this project include Kelantanese traditional multi-intrumentalists Kamarul Baisah Hussin and Mat Din Hussin, project coordinator performer/lecturer Zamzuriah Zahari and cultural organisation Pusaka founder Eddin Khoo as advisor and talk moderator.

Yamada, Kamarul and Mat Din will be performing in the dance-music showcase at Aswara.

While Yamada describes her freestyle dance as requiring a strong form, concept or a deep theme for its creation, she also shares how she is intrigued by Kelantanese traditional culture because it is “very mysterious”.

“I have a feeling that it may awaken the power or potential that we human beings originally have,” she says.

Her interest in Main Puteri in particular has a bit of a personal story behind it.

“I got interested in Main Puteri, because of its relationship with disease. I started dancing when I got an incurable disease when I was 14,” she says of her rheumatic disease.

“Without the disease, I would not have started dancing. Without dancing, I would have been defeated by the disease. Until now, my relationship with ‘disease’ has continued and it is the theme of my life. I feel like I am coming back to my origin by working on this showcase.”

The theme of this collaborative project is Blessings For Life. 

“Dance and music is for everyone: for the people watching the performance, for the people who cannot attend to watch, for the people we cannot meet again, for the people we are going to meet in the future. A performance has the power to touch and talk to your heart, so I hope this showcase and talk can accompany you on your journey in this world. I hope they can be your bread of life,” she concludes.

Since her first visit to Malaysia in 2012, Yamada has been contributing the cultural exchange between Malaysia and Japan through dance by conducting workshops for students, creating new pieces with local dancers and also inviting them to perform in Japan.


Un Yamada x Kelantanese Traditional Music Collaboration Project is on at Black Box, National Academy of Ats Culture and Heritage (Aswara), 464, Jalan Tun Ismail in KL on Oct 26 (8pm) and Oct 27 (3pm). Free admission; registration required via www.eventbrite.com. More info: www.jfkl.org.my. FB: thejapanfoundationKL.


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