OUT OF 10 performers who audition for the role of Monkey God, only two will make the cut.
“An extrovert who can deliver the customary season’s greetings with a wicked sense of humour. Someone who can’t sit still. And ideally, have a background in martial arts,” said Kuala Lumpur Kun Seng Keng Lion and Dragon Dance Association coach Yess Cheong in listing down the qualifications.
He said the search for candidates started in 2015 to train performers in time for Chinese New Year 2016.
The role went to wushu exponent Ng See Chan who is also Cheong’s classmate and a Sarawakian of Iban descent, Onting Lim.
Group choreographer Cheong Kam Then, who was responsible for the routines, said the appearance of the Monkey God in the lion dancing arena only became popular this year.
Previously, this famous character in Chinese operas had not caught on with lion dance troupes because it requires acting as well as acrobatics.
The character has two sets of costumes -- a celestial warrior and a monk’s disciple undertaking a mission to retrieve holy scriptures.
“We reserve the warrior costume for grand occasions. For normal shows, our Monkey God wears the clothes of a traveller,” said Yess.
There are also two variations to the headgear. One is a golden headband, another a more elaborate headpiece with feathers.
As the headband is symbolic of a disciplinary tool that can tighten and cause pain, the association has chosen the more elaborate headpiece as this was what the character wore when it attained godhood.
The most expensive component are a pair of lightweight feathers which can cost up to RM400 a pair in the headgear. A furry mask is another crucial component.
“Performers have to wear this for at least half an hour every training session to get used to the heat,” said Yess.
Next, come the moves. This is where Ng’s 10 years of wushu training comes in handy.
“Most of the movements come from the five basic kung fu stances to suit different performance situations including aerial skits on piled up garden pots and stools.
“The act’s highlight -- a somersault from stage to floor can only be done on cement and carpeted floors.
“We will not entertain this request if the surface is marbled or wet to prevent injury,” said Ng who is protected by group insurance.
For safety reasons too, the degree of stunts will depend on weather conditions.
The best part about playing the Monkey God is being able to get away with being naughty.
“The character has to be dignified but at the same time, if it chooses to put its arm around a VIP, scratch his shoulder or look for lice in his hair, it’s okay because that is exactly how a monkey behaves.
“But it’s best not to get carried away because if the client is unhappy, he might not pay,” concluded Yess.