with Lenggang Raya (20 & 21 May 2023)
There’s no question that a digital space is a completely different place from an in-person one in a studio. I’ve been to rehearsals early—where I wait outside the room door, feeling the emptiness of a campus hallway or building. The adrenaline that sits in the performance body before it has even gone off to perform, a lone heart beating and hearing itself. The ambience echoing off the walls, in shared spaces and people.
Digital rehearsals take this in a form of its own. I wait in the comfort of my room, putting the fan up to high so I don’t sweat. “P7:1SMA’S WAITING ROOM” stares at me kindly after I’ve clicked the link, beckoning me to just wait a few moments. The room cannot open without the person with the keys—in this case, Hasyimah has to come to the laptop and click my name to allow me into this new rehearsal space—or the meeting room, so to speak in Zoom terms.
My conversation with Hasyimah, as I waited for the zoom room to open.
When the zoom finally opens, I’m greeted with a plethora of boxes—and the familiar faces of the Monfort ladies. With the convenient nature of Zoom calls, it is possible for anyone to participate in a meeting wherever they are. Everyone is in a completely different world in each of their digital boxes—Kak Mazni is in her neighbourhood, looking for a quiet place to take the call. Two of the ladies are seated comfortably in their homes, their living rooms on display. Kak Rainy, most amusingly, is packing porridge at a masjid, listening in while she carries out her communal duties. A strange vulnerability that comes with the flexibility of online space has opened—my relationship to these women previously kept at a professional distance, now changed by the sights of their personal and communal spaces blurred out in their rectangular backgrounds.
Zoom in its nature, is still strange to most of us. We have used this platform for three years since the pandemic started, yet we still feel the distance that an online space seems to continue to perpetuate. With all the ladies in different places at the same time, it becomes increasingly clear that time is experienced by everyone so differently. We can all be in the same space at the same time, yet thinking different thoughts, experiencing our own unique moments. Zoom in this case, is also a form of accessibility—the ladies have asserted that they prefer to not do any strenuous forms of rehearsal or movement during Ramadan. Placing rehearsals online (in this context) is a necessity for the ageing body, so that it does cross its own boundaries and limitations in a spiritually and physically demanding time period in a Muslim’s life.
Hasyimah clarifies that the online sessions are for a specific purpose, mostly to get some memorisation down before the physical movement. Through the session, I find out that the project has yet to be locked down on a foundational level. It is a lot different from my entry point to the previous project I was involved with the Monfort ladies. I entered Kembali right in the middle of the process, where things had been shaped and set into stone, and a bulk of the remaining process was for traditional modes of rehearsal. This time, I am privileged enough to see the beginnings of a process, to get a sense of what this show could actually be in the first place.
There are moments of hesitance in this process. Hasyimah is often asking the room with prompts, sidestepping her questions with possible themes and motifs for the performance. The show is part of this year’s Pesta Raya, and the aim for the show is as follows:
‘Lenggang’ has the meaning of being leisurely and walking in a slow and peaceful gait. This Malay dance performance by Montfort Care Goodlife! Bedok offers a reimagination of health and wellness. Moving towards a communal function of dancing, they will use movement to share personal stories during Hari Raya, and build relationships through empathy.
Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices towards a more meaningful existence. Expanding on the Malay dance movement motif of ‘lenggang’ which refers to the gentle swaying of arms when walking, this motif offers a symbolic and effective way of taking care of each other.
The Malay community in essence, has had a weird relationship with health and wellness. In a Singapore that has placed many bodily related stereotypes onto our community—whether it’s the ingestion of drugs, obesity and diabetes, laziness—I find this introduction of wellness by Hasyimah intriguing. How do we promote wellness as most of our bodies are boxed and sanctioned by society at large? How do we keep well in this hyper-individual, hyper-capitalistic society that burns our bodies out, even in ageing? How do we dissect and pick apart the internalised -isms that we digest, consciously and unconsciously? Especially for older Malay/Muslim women who might still struggle with notions of religious and societal patriarchy that has been inflicted on their bodies? When Hasyimah poses this theme to the group, it is a culmination of livelihoods and experiences, gelled together in the bodies of these women.
There are a few moments in the deliberation process where the zoom room is quiet for a good moment. Collecting their thoughts, with uncertain faces. Kak Mazni is the most comfortable communicating on Zoom in contrast to the rest, and is the biggest contributor of ideas—which doesn’t surprise me that much, given that she has been the ladies’ spokesperson since Kembali. Things eventually start to warm up after Kak Mazni suggests potential props and costumes. Suddenly words of different hues begin to fill up the zoom room:
As the words and suggestions slowly evolve from domestic experiences of Hari Raya to suggestions of what potential dance forms they want to utilise, it is becoming clear to me that everyone is an equal in this space. Lenggang Raya, in contrast to the melancholic hues of Kembali, is starting to feel like a more communal sharing of dance. A larger sense of ease now eclipsed into the process.
Towards the end of the session, Hasyimah apologises to the ladies, which takes them (and me by extension by surprise). She wonders aloud whether engaging them for another project is burdensome, especially within the constraints of Ramadan and Hari Raya wedged in between. Tari untuk siapa?, the group wonders along with her.
These art forms—and consequently performance at its very core—have persisted bodies and time, yet have digressed to platform what we perceive as youthful, abled bodies. How we are able to contribute to an art form that utilises the body as a spectacle has to change. And that comes with understanding how to utilise non-physical spaces to incubate and accommodate, and giving agency to bodies that do not conform to our standards of seeing. When one dances for the audience constantly, perhaps dance may lose its meaning. And the last thing that the Monfort ladies have proved is that dance was never a vehicle for consumption. It is the spirit of kembali, the past that will continue to sit with our present forms.
In response to Hasyimah’s thoughts, Kak Rainy chimes in thoughtfully—Kita tak menyusahkan, kita diperlukan. Kita nak tunjukkan asal diri kita. Tari buat kita rasa jati diri.