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Session 5: Badan yang bawak tangan

Writer-in-residence

with Lenggang Raya (20 & 21 May 2023)


When I arrive at Block 661, the heat is sweltering. We’re at a residential area near Masjid Alkaff, where Jiwa Galoreez’s previous rehearsal space used to be. I find it a little amusing that I used to have to bring a spare jacket just so I wouldn’t shiver in the Alkaff space, and now even my heat-adaptive dry fits feel overstimulating.


I bump into Cik Faridah, who is here a little earlier than our intended rehearsal time. She confides that she feels a little anxious about her participation in this project—as of late, she’s been a bit more acutely aware of her physical ailments.


These interactions have always been a norm with the Jiwa Galoreez ladies. Finding comfort in your own community opens a willingness to share what might feel like a lot to a bystander. I usually just listen—when these instances happen, I’m reminded of the way my elderly relatives suddenly share intimate details at random times. These moments are small bouts of connection, even if it’s only one sided. They’re hard to just ignore, and I try to be as present as I can in these fleeting vulnerable moments.


Mak Limah and Cik Faridah, seated.

They’re one of the oldest of the group.


When Hasyimah arrives, we go over the concept of the performance again for Mak Limah and Cik Faridah’s sake due to their absence from yesterday's rehearsal. When Hasyimah introduces it again as “persiapan Hari Raya,” Mak Limah instantly responds with “Jadi sedih lah?” My heart can’t help but break a little when I hear the ladies express moments of grief just by talking about Hari Raya celebrations. With Mak Limah especially, it’s hard to not be aware of her age, her histories woven into her mature skin, her fragile physique. I wonder briefly what it’s like to have experienced this holiday over and over, and to immediately think of a sense of sadness and grief where most would rejoice at the end of Ramadan.


In spite of the heavy topics, Mak Limah is a jokester.

Pictured is Hasyimah and Mazni amused by Mak Limah poking fun at Hasyimah.


Hasyimah continues to probe a bit more with regards to the show’s concept, even though it’s technically already settled. She asks a question to the group regarding the opening segment, where the performers set the scene as the takbir plays to usher in the new Islamic month. Kalau dengar takbir, rasanya apa? These questions provoke something in the group, receiving answers like:


Rasanya kemenangan, ada gembira, ada rasa kesedihan.

Sebab itu kita tak boleh jadi.

Kalau ada umur, kalau takda.

Bila dengar Allahuakbar, sedihnya dah datang.


It seems like a sharp reminder of their own mortality—kita reti tak nak jumpa Ramadan lagi? Who is worthy of staying till the next celebration? Staying alive is a triumph almost, where spiritual holidays are a constant reminder of who is given the privilege to still be alive.


Proceeding this discussion, Hasyimah leads them in a warmup before we begin the choreography. Mak Limah and Faridah remain in their chairs, playfully reminding everyone that they haven’t done much movement since the fasting month. To accommodate to them, Hasyimah re-teaches the steps while sitting, creating more a varied levelled image of the performance in contrast to yesterday’s.



Even if this is temporary, there is a charm to this placement. Hasyimah readapting the choreography to Mak Limah and Cik Faridah is a reminder to me that performance can be accessible. There are ways to translate abled, youthful movements for different bodies, and we only have to be willing to think more creatively for inclusion to happen. The sets, with more bodies in space, also have a bit more of a water-like quality to them, especially when done in a sitting position. Hasyimah fondly labels this as the “badan yang bawak tangan'' phenomenon—the body is the vehicle that propels other parts of it. Malay dance movements are often focused on the minute details of the fingers, but it seems that the mechanics of movement, even in our tiniest parts of anatomy—is propelled by everything that we are able to give energy into.



Even with accommodations, Mak Limah is her usual stubborn self, who tries her best to try and stand up to follow Hasyimah’s choreography. She even shares some exercises that she’s been taught to move her body more, that appear to me like breathing exercises emulated in yoga. I wonder if these projects are her way of reclaiming her body, even when she is allowed grace and accommodation.


In our session debrief, Hasyimah reassures the group about the performance’s location being outdoor. Dimming some anxieties about the body being put on display, and sharing some of her experiences of performing in formal spaces and outdoor ones. As we delve into this topic, the ladies also share about preserving their Malay identity through the project. Kak Rainy feels strongly about their age group dancing, and is passionate about the visibility they get when they perform.


As an artist, I’ve always been at odds with my Malay identity as well. If the anxieties of existing will ever go away. If my need to exist strongly is an overreaction. I’m strangely comforted by the fact that these conversations about identity still exist in circles much older than me. That Malay communities still exist, still want to be visible in old age, to desire an audience to express. “Kalau kita dah takda, macam mana?” Kak Limah asks. I wish I had an answer to her question. To tell her that Malay identities are still being unravelled without feeling exhausted. But perhaps Lenggang Raya’s existence is in itself its own resistance. To focus on how we celebrate our happiness, even amongst the grief of mortality and existence. To live, without question.


 

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