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Session 6: Rumput muda

Writer-in-residence

with Lenggang Raya (20 - 21 May 2023)


The Jiwa Galoreez Ladies gather at Esplanade lawn, in front of Singtel Waterfront Theatre.


Today is a sweltering site recee/rehearsal—gathering at the lush, young lawn of Esplanade’s Singtel Waterfront Theatre, Ari works quickly to bring the tikar and props under the sun. The performance space, situated in front of Makan Sutra and the river overlooking Marina Bay Sands, is a small but homely sized communal gathering area. While the ladies settle on the side and have some lunch to get ready for practice, Hasyimah directs Ari, Mazni and I in experimenting with the tikar (mat) placements around the grass.


Finalised tikar placements. Photo CC to Ari.


She eventually decides on a placement that looks a bit more spontaneous. In the planning process, it was meant to be a bit more of a proscenium style performance set up. But the wind blowing the mats off the grass seem to inspire more possibilities in how the performance can be experienced, especially when the opening number exists to encourage the audiences to help lay down the tikar. Outdoor performances like this seem to be better opportunities to allow a higher sense of immersiveness and participation—without the comfort of velvet seats and airconditioning, Hasyimah and the ladies are able to remove the audience as a passive viewer to the art form. In the outdoors, even in urban spaces, it’s hard to ignore the Earth’s natural elements—especially in this inter monsoon season, where the heat is our biggest grievance.


Hasyimah leads the ladies into the rehearsal—they pick up props, put on sunglasses, and begin their sets. Passersby stop and stare as they move (not pictured due to lack of consent), their full facial expressions hidden by large sunglasses. I cast a look at Shiraz—an Esplanade staff, and friend of P7:1SMA’s—who vocalises my thoughts before I can say them: “they’re probably wondering what kind of ‘exotic’ culture they’re carrying out.” It’s a strange feeling, not similar to the previous outdoor space that the ladies have performed at before. I wonder if it’s because the passersby are tourists. If the thoughts that fill their mind while looking at older dancers in a public space are of curiosity or judgement of the unknown. But strangely, these moments also offer a bite sized feeling of our actual performance days. Regardless of opportunity, atmosphere and comfort that artists provide our audiences—ultimately, their responses are theirs. Through their now unmasked faces, or bodies sprawled out on our tikar for them. The way an audience reacts to art in the moment is almost similar to the performance that happens in front of them, except unrehearsed.


After their set for the song Seloka Raya.


The open air of the venue seems to incite more playfulness in the ladies. There is more giggling as they move, snarky comments from Mak Limah that incite rapturous laughter in the team, smiles as they dance under the sun. Lenggang seems to have found its home in this green space, the colours of the tikar and props blending in beautifully with their bodies in space. I think of the ways Mazni comments “macam zaman kita,” (in our time) in our previous rehearsals. I wonder if the space has fully allowed the performers to be free, and if it will enable them to let go of any inhibitions they might harbour in rehearsal. This performance is built on so many things personal to them—nostalgia, routine, food, clothing. As they become more comfortable with lenggang, releasing these memories into space is almost cathartic to watch, to be allowed in a space so personal yet so public all the same.


Hasyimah leading Kak Rainy in more freeform, lenggang inspired movement

in the event that the ladies might forget their choreography on the performance day.


When we wrap our rehearsal, it’s time for more official business. Berita Harian is on the scene with us to interview the ladies about their experience and process in participating in the project, and gather footage of the choreography. Rainy and Mak Limah are being interviewed today on behalf of the group. All of it goes exceptionally well, even with a camera trailing the performer’s movements and words. The reporter and cameraman are graceful to what they are witnessing and making use of. They carry out two sets again of Seloka Raya, almost as if there is no camera in front of them at all—enjoying each other’s presence, mindfully eyeing Hasyimah from time to time as they move.


Berita Harian filming the first few sets of the piece.



Kak Rainy and Mak Limah being interviewed. Photo CC to Ari.


It’s hard for me to not notice the intimacy they have. The bond that has been established, that all of them feel comfortable in executing a performance together. It exists outside of their artwork, through their sharing of food, their willingness to see each other, standing up alongside each other even with accommodations to their age. There is no doubt to me that community saves lives. When they show up because they feel compelled to perform and participate—in these minutiae decisions within themselves, they save each other, just by being. And perhaps they save a little bit of me too, even when I exist generations apart from them. I am at home, knowing they’ve built one for themselves through their practice and work. Home is anywhere—from the Esplanade lawn to the void decks in Bedok. Where art lives, and community thrives—home is everywhere.



Hasyimah and Jiwa Galoreez briefing (and joking) before the Berita Harian filming.


 

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