Veteran dancer-choreographer reclaims the spotlight with ArtKU dance series


'Cappuccino' is part of 'Core Of Three', a dance suite in the '55.5' dance production at the upcoming ArtKU Dance Festival at PJPAC. Photo: Chew Seng Cheong

The inaugural ArtKU Dance Festival, which features a dance production, seminars, masterclasses, a lecture demonstration, and a multimedia exhibition, is set to take place at the Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Centre (PJPac) at 1 Utama Shopping Centre on July 13 and 14.

Presented by SuperGrass Creative, the festival marks the mid-year milestone of ArtKU 2024, a year-long dance project by veteran choreographer and artistic director Mew Chang Tsing.

“Malaysians are so passionate about our traditions. Yet we are also willing to embrace visiting cultures. That vitality and creativity is especially strong in dance,” says Mew, an acclaimed name in the Malaysian dance scene since the early 1990s, and the founder of RiverGrass Dance Company.

“With ArtKU Dance Fest, we wanted to tap into that energy and celebrate it,” she adds.

Close to the heart

At ArtKU, the dance production 55.5 – which will be staged on July 13 and 14 – is Mew’s comeback of sorts after a 20-year absence, presenting her latest works in a range of dances, such as Mid-Autumn 2021 and White Snake Endeavour.

“The production is called 55.5 because that’s my age – I’m between 55 and 56. The number five also sounds similar to the word for ‘dance’ in Mandarin and I like to jot down my dance ideas in my Buku 555,” says Mew about the significance of the production’s title.

The production’s four pieces, which feature choreographic styles such as contemporary ballet, contemporary dance and dance theatre, hold a lot of personal meaning for Mew.

Mew, artistic director of the ArtKU Dance Festival, is set to reconnect with the dance community with the dance production '55.5'. Photo: HandoutMew, artistic director of the ArtKU Dance Festival, is set to reconnect with the dance community with the dance production '55.5'. Photo: Handout

Mid-Autumn 2021 is the piece that got me back out doing dance-related work again. It records the frustration and fear my daughter faced during the Covid-19 pandemic and is a piece that’s close to the heart of our family,” says Mew.

White Snake Endeavour is also another piece that’s close to my heart. I feel for the Lady White Snake character – all she wants is true love and a family, and yet she has to go through so much torment being trapped in a pagoda for hundreds of years. I am using a more surreal approach for this one and can’t wait to see the outcome on the stage,” she adds.

Over 20 talented dancers, comprising both established dance practitioners and outstanding students personally selected by Mew from various dance schools in the Klang Valley, are taking part in the production.

If you’d like to learn more about Mew’s career, check out the PJPAC lobby area, where you’ll come across the Made In Malaysia: Mew Chang Tsing multimedia exhibition, an interactive exhibition highlighting Mew’s journey towards making a name for herself in the Malaysian dance scene.

Learn from the masters

Aspiring dancers and choreographers can explore the festival’s seminars and masterclasses, featuring regional dance experts and cultural presentations.

The sessions feature speakers like legendary choreographer/director Wong Kit Yaw and playwright Ann Lee. In the “Princess Hang Li Po and Her Stage Productions” seminar, they will discuss various stage productions about the legendary figure Hang Li Po, who continues to captivate Malaysians to this day.

Hong Kong-based South-East Asian folk dance master Surianty Liu Chun Wai, who mentored Mew, is the keynote speaker for the “Preserving and Restaging Traditional Dances” seminar. This session explores the challenges of capturing and integrating traditional dances into contemporary creations.

Liu will also present the lecture demonstration “The Body Rhythm of South-East Asian Dances,” examining the similarities and differences among Malaysian, Indonesian, and Filipino dance forms.

If contemporary ballet interests you, don’t miss choreographer Allen Lam’s masterclasses.

He will introduce participants to the fusion of classical ballet technique and contemporary movement principles, followed by a deep dive into choreographic exploration, including developing dynamics, emotional nuances, and integrating individuality.

Lam is the founder and artistic director of the stage production company Muse Motion and currently serves as chairperson of the Hong Kong Dance Alliance.

Tickets for the 55.5 dance production, seminars and masterclasses are still available. Walk-ins are accepted, but it’s recommended to secure your seats ahead of time.

In December, this dance series will resume with the ArtKU Pesta - “Beyond Dance” event. It is set to take up the whole PJPAC venue on Dec 21 and 22.

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