Malaysian dancer's work 'Interchange' set to shine in Japan


'My expectation for this competition is definitely to win, but ultimately whether we win or lose, it will be a great way to gain experience, observe other performances and choreography work,' says Zulkarnain Zuber. Photo: Handout

Dancer Zulkarnain Zuber is thrilled about the upcoming Yokohama Dance Collection 2023, and the fact that one of his choreographed works, Interchange, has been selected as a finalist.

“We are very excited, of course,” says Zulkarnain, or better known as Zul in the arts community.

“I was just trying my luck by submitting the application so when the organiser came back to us with the good news, I was caught by surprise! We came 8th out of 130 international performances! That was indeed one of the happiest moments for me and is a feeling I will always cherish!” adds the full-time ASK Dance Company (ADC) member.

As quickly as the elation arrived, those feelings soon morphed into anxiousness as Zul and his team would now have to travel to Japan in December.

“We now need funding to cover our expenses for the trip to Yokohama!”

Celebrating its 29th year, the Yokohama Dance Collection is an international showcase of contemporary dance, which will feature over 500 groundbreaking works, propelling choreographers onto the global stage. Embracing international talent, the festival, led by Director Ono Shinji, explores the theme “Observing Phenomena: Nature And The Body” amid the challenges of the post-pandemic era.

Interchange will be performed on Dec 3 in Yokohama by a trio of ADC dancers: Adlan Sairin, Nadhirah Rahmat and Wong Shan Tie. The dance was first presented at Sibu International Dance Festival 2022, Sarawak and has been performed twice more in Kuala Lumpur for DanceBox 2022 and MyDance Festival 2023 organised by MyDance Alliance, Malaysia.

“The dance showcases an exploration of the relationship between movement, rhythm and tempo reflecting the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur city folks,” says Zul.

It is a powerful piece – packed with intricate movements performed with accuracy and precision at various tempos challenging the performers’ agility, musicality, and awareness and sensibility of dancing with others.

“In terms of movement exploration, I used movements from the Malay classical dance Terinai and deconstructed them more deeply so that the traditional movements are not directly visible,” he explains.

“I was inspired to create the piece when I came across European choreographer Anton Lachky on the Internet. Lachky is known for fast paced and energetic movements through his choreographies and workshops. This encouraged me to explore speed and energy similar to his but with a local vocabulary and dancers.”

From Perlis to prestige

Zul, a 30-year-old dancer and choreographer hailing from Kangar, Perlis, began dancing at 14, while he was studying at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Syed Hassan.

Steeped in cultural richness, he joined a Ministry of Education Perlis cultural group, an initiation that sparked his passion for the art form. This fervour carried him through numerous dance competitions and performances, predominantly in traditional Malay dance.His odyssey continued beyond the boundaries of Perlis, as he took on the role of a dancer at the Department of Culture, Universiti Malaysia Perlis, post his SPM in 2010.

Zul, a 30-year-old dancer and choreographer hailing from Kangar, Perlis, began dancing at 14. Photo: HandoutZul, a 30-year-old dancer and choreographer hailing from Kangar, Perlis, began dancing at 14. Photo: Handout

Subsequently, his pursuit of excellence led him to the Faculty of Dance at Aswara, where he not only honed his skills but also etched his mark through diverse productions and performances. From the mesmerising Jamu to the innovative Interchange, Zul has been a creative force, weaving tales through his choreography. Beyond the stage, Zul has also left a mark in the realm of dance film, producing evocative pieces like Limbo and A Series Of Portraits. His versatility extends to the director’s chair, where he orchestrated the visually-compelling Dikir Through The Lenses, a testament to his multifaceted artistic prowess.

Zul has also showcased his talent in prominent events, including Datuk Siti Nurhaliza’s concerts across Asia and Australia, and has served as a choreographer for reality TV shows.

In the international arena, Zul has graced stages and studios from Hawaii in the United States to India, showcasing the cultural tapestry of Malaysia.

As he embarks on the journey to the Yokohama Dance Collection next month, his story resonates not only as a celebration of Malaysian dance but as a testament to the transformative power of artistic passion and dedication.

Dance as exploration

“At the moment, I am actively choreographing and teaching contemporary dance in local studios as well as choreographing works for final year students in performing arts institutions especially for the faculty of Creative Arts, Universiti Malaya," says Zul.

"I have also enjoyed teaching traditional dances to the next generation. For example, ADC has been conducting community outreach programmes, supported by Yayasan Sime Darby, through which we teach the community traditional dance for free. I always find joy in teaching these types of classes.”

He enjoys both dancing and choreography because each has its own challenges and learning curve.

“When dancing, I pay more attention to understanding the movements and mastering them so that the message that the choreographer wants to convey can be clearly observed by the audience,” he says.

The dance choreographed by Zul was first presented at Sibu International Dance Festival 2022 in Sarawak. Photo: Handout The dance choreographed by Zul was first presented at Sibu International Dance Festival 2022 in Sarawak. Photo: Handout

“Choreography, on the other hand, challenges me in terms of movement processing, concepts, costumes and ideas to create interesting, quality and out-of-the-box performances.”

Apart from the Japan trip funding challenge, Zul says that the competition’s rules and regulations state that the choreography must be identical to the video submitted.

“This has challenged us to analyse the performance deeply because we have to replicate it as closely as possible. My expectation for this competition is definitely to win, but ultimately whether we win or lose, it will be a great way to gain experience, observe other performances and choreography work, and it is going to be an incredible opportunity to network with other creative talents and just expand our knowledge in terms of methods of exploration, ideas, analysis of movement, cultural exchange and how to communicate,” says Zul.

Funding the dream

Funding remains a big challenge for the ASK team because all flights and accommodation must be borne by the participants themselves.

“We have tried to apply for funds from various parties but have not been successful so far. We’re trying to raise funds for ourselves by organising a dance production, dance workshops and also crowd funding,” says Zul, adding that producing this show is expensive but the team has been willing to take the risk because they are confident Malaysians will come forward to support their efforts.

“The funds that we raise will be used to finance the flight tickets and accommodation in Japan for approximately one week. Any balance funds will be used for future artistic projects or international tours our company undertakes. Our aim is to raise RM50,000.”

Zul and his ADC team recently conducted a dance workshop with three classes including contemporary dance and excerpts from Interchange. Earlier this month, ADC also presented Menyemai Seni, Menjunjung Langit at the Fonteyn Theatre, Federal Academy of Ballet, Petaling Jaya.

If you would like to financially support the team's Yokohama project, you can make a donation to ASK Dance Company Sdn Bhd at CIMB Bank Berhad account 8001081505; send your receipt to, or if you have any further enquiries, contact Kalaivani 012-590 0488.

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