Writer-in-residence for Kembali: Dia Hakim Khaeri
Engagement date: 1 September 2022
Today is the start of September. It’s about 3 weeks left until the show, and the second last rehearsal for the performance.
There is a more vibrant, energetic feel today. The makcik’s auras feel refreshed and regenerated, already gathered by the tables surrounding their kuehs and snacks. The natural community they have will never waver. Neither will the lack of food they so happily bring each other each session consistently.
Hasyimah leads them through a synchronised, rhythmic warm up. Haizad flitters by while she is given the space to lead them.
There is something sweet about the contrasting dynamics of the artist-participant. Haizad and Hasyimah are experienced artists but are recent weds and even newer parents. Their presence, fully integrated with an array of women with much more life experience, who probably have their own versions of being in a couple. The makciks are more than aware of this. I hear it when they light up hearing about Hasyimah’s son, Noah. I hear it when a man enters a room, and his presence is so egregiously taken note of. The way Hasyimah gets called Ibu, a term that alleviates and humbles her at the same time.
There is so much difference that blends when everyone is in the performance space. The kinship of a shared community makes this blend almost seamless.
Visually, that is the first thing that has always struck out to me when I see Kembali being rehearsed. Two millennial dancers who are experts in their craft, leading women who might have never danced in their life prior to this project. There is a contrast in age as a given. The body that comes with everyone’s age is also apparent.
Hasyimah and Haizad, in my perspective, have always offered the makciks agency of their bodies. The non judgemental space that is a default in sessions, with the compassion that needs to be extended when one is of old age.
In spite of the limitations that a senior body presents, there is always a natural willingness to do things. If you are an observer like me, one could argue this willingness could come from the typical makcik stubbornness – once in a situation, she is usually up for the challenge till its end.
In performance, the body is the vessel. The body is a spectacle. The body is a vehicle to what is happening onstage. Even when we think of theatre / dance / performance in more abstract hues, there’s always been a standard that has been set before we even start ideating.
Combined with society’s body standards that are so consciously and unconsciously imposed onto ourselves – The body onstage must be flexible, the body onstage must be youthful. The body onstage should not age, or they will be destined to a life of typecast or forms.
Perhaps, what compels me to the creation of this work is how death is so intertwined with one’s body.
When we think of death, there is an immediate association with a body shrivelled up and withered. Even in the religious / cultural act of caring for a dead body, we wash the body thoroughly. Wrapping it up in kain kafan, to only be seen by God and Their angels when it is finally buried in a realm that we will catch up to when we pass. When we think of the way we’ve internalised false images of our own bodies, it feels like a final act of defiance to ourselves. When we die, we close the coffin. We capture the permanent image of a still, sleeping family member or friend. That last, perfect image.
The act of choosing not to see the body in its final stages of existing, the refusal to see a process of breaking down and withering.
Kembali. To return to our own bodies. To confront our ageing, whether we’re 13, 30, or 300. To embrace the withering, the waning of life that so naturally happens.
Even when we lose strength, when we lose clear skin, strong bones. What we always have is agency or autonomy. No one, even up till the day you die, can dictate the way you want your body to be placed or buried.
When we return – to our Creator, our Earth. Our bodies become transcendent, and finally, we emerge. Perfect.
Hasyimah & Haizad leading different segments of Kembali.