Dancer Aida Redza’s short film captures the 'semangat' of padi

Aida says the short film examines the ‘inner spirit’ of rice in all its manifestations. Photo: Aida Redza

Dancer and choreographer Aida Redza is no stranger when it comes to creating collaborative multidisciplinary works involving rice.

What started as an on-site workshop process in Balik Pulau, Penang in 2015 evolved into various iterations over five years, including Moved By Padi (2016) at the George Town Festival and Wandering Padi (2019) at the Ansan Street Arts Festival in South Korea.

This weekend, Aida, who is based in Penang, returns with another rice-inspired project... this time presented as a short film.

The short film called Semangat: Restu Padi will be streamed for free at 8pm via WindRiver Productions’ Youtube channel on March 13 and 14.

The link will be provided before the premiere on Penang-based arts company Impress Creative and Editorial’s (Impress) Facebook page.

“This project - a 40-minute film - explores the centrality of rice in the lives of people in Asia. We have tried to evolve our ideas about padi in new ways, as our understanding of its significance has grown and matured," says Aida.

Produced by Impress, the project is supported by WindRiver Productions, Ombak-Ombak ARTStudio and Pelan Jana Semula Ekonomi Negara, and funded by grants from the Cultural Economy Development Agency’s (Cendana) Performing Arts Presentation Funding Programme, and the Hai-O Arts & Culture Grant.

“The workshop performance that is captured in the film documents and reveals how we work to put together the different elements of the process of performance-making, ” says Gareth Richards, founding director of Impress.

“And the focus is on the ‘blessings’ of rice. At the same time, our aim is to examine the ‘inner spirit’ of rice in all its manifestations. This inner spirit or semangat reveals a complex cycle of life.

“Semangat can therefore be understood as a metaphor for our creation and existence, both of which rely heavily on humankind’s balanced relationship with nature, ” explains Aida.

The short film was documented by Penang-based media artist Goh Choon Ean with the joint support of LUMA and 221B Media. The workshop performance was shot on-site at Pondok Moden of Yayasan Lestari in Balik Pulau, Penang,

Semangat: Restu Padi will feature movement performances by Aida, Theyvapaalan S. Jayaratnam and Lee Kien Fei accompanied by voice artist Amira Farhana, installation works by artist Lisa Foo (who uses natural materials) and music by experimental composer Ng Chor Guan (using sounds he recorded on-site).

For Semangat: Restu Padi, Aida began by planting padi seeds in the backyard of Pondok Moden last October. With the help of the local community, she nurtured and finally harvested the padi after three months.

Throughout the project, Aida and her co-collaborators observed padi farmers and the different phases of the padi’s life-cycle and finally created a performance language out of this research.

“Rice is obviously at the heart of many Asian food cultures but many people are completely disconnected from this, especially those who live in the city. So we want to raise awareness, and to show through the combination of different media, of different art forms, what the everyday and symbolic significance of rice is (or should be), ” says Aida.

A video artwork by video artist Andrew Han will be screened in late April. Additionally, Aida reveals, a documentary film and book will be released at a later date to document this project and accompanying performances.

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