with Lenggang Raya (20 & 21 May 2023)
This afternoon is a little different in contrast to our previous sessions. For one, Haizad is covering for Hasyimah, who arrives with a large plastic bag of umbrellas to be used for the Siti Nurhaliza score. We also have a newcomer, Kak Sofiah, who is connected to Kak Rainy. The ladies welcome her warmly, which colours me slightly shocked. It’s like she’s always been with the group, their chatter evolving from how she moved to the East area to her family life. But perhaps these instant bonds are also necessary—to dance together, one must feel comfortable with their dance partners. Synergy and trust is so important in performance, and even as I sit to document this project, I find that I have to embrace that for myself as well. Connections made with people are such a gamble, where the odds are never fixed. But the only way to know them is to take that chance, and get the dice rolling.
Haizad and the ladies testing out the umbrellas.
The umbrellas are much lighter in feel in contrast to regular umbrellas, and everyone attests to the ease in moving with them. There are some technical issues, more so to do with the wooden mechanism of the umbrella that allows it to open and close. Thankfully it’s nothing that can’t be fixed, as the ladies swap umbrellas around, testing out their newest prop. I feel Haizad has done a good job in picking the style of these Chinese-style umbrellas—in contrast to regular, modern ones, they exude a certain femininity that regular umbrellas just don’t. It’s amusing to think about the gendered nature of inanimate objects. That there are pre-existing conditions to be able to hold a certain thing, that allows someone to exude a different energy when they do.
In spite of this, gender is never in an inert state. That begins with Haizad’s temporary position as the instructor for today. The absence of Hasyimah definitely exudes a different feeling visually—a millennial man sticks out amongst the ladies as he dances to the gentle sways of Siti Nurhaliza’s honeyed voice, and it’s hard to ignore. But Haizad is also gentle. Even with the limited time he is given to teach the group (along with a new member in his session), he is able to honour the choreography where it is due, and his body does not make a difference in executing the dance.
With this I am reminded of his previous work—The Wrong Geng, where Haizad explores dance, gender, and the evolving nature of performance as societal norms continue to change. Exploring gender is not new to Haizad, with his primary question posed in his solo performance: What if the role of the perempuan joget (female dancer) was undertaken by a cis-male? While both projects are vastly different, it reminds me that performance has largely been a malleable art form. Gender is easily bent, played with, mocked. But not the same can be said for Malay-centric modes of dance, where gender roles continue to play an integral part in its stories and movements. In an art form where Malay male dancers co opt roles that are usually more assertive, Haizad relishes in the freedom of betraying and bending rules, and focuses on moving truthfully.
Haizad leading Jiwa Galoreez.
In between their water breaks, Hasyimah tasks me to get recordings from Kak Rainy, Faridah and Norizan. The recordings will be weaved into the movement score as “breathing” moments, where they are allowed to interact with each other in between the sets.
I interview Norizan and Faridah first, because Rainy is absent for today. When I ask them what memories and hopes they think of when they hear the takbir, both Norizan and Faridah carry a sense of sadness and loss in their answers. Norizan ruminates more so on the years that have passed by her, how the takbir makes her acutely aware of the fact that she has lived. Faridah’s answer isn’t far off from Norizan’s, but for the first time since I’ve known her, she speaks about how the takbir makes her feel lonely. It makes her remember her late husband, and the solitude that washes over her.
These snippets of the ladies’ voices are definitely a snap back into their lived realities. I distastefully wonder what God feels when They hear that what is usually a joyful celebration can be so painful for some. That even the happiest choreography and song, steeped deep in culture and religion, are also tinged with loneliness.
Before I manage to catch my breath in the midst of their recordings, Sofiah chimes in. She explains that she was drawn to Jiwa Galoreez because her late mother was a dancer, and when she passed she realised staying idle and grieving was going to be detrimental for her mental health. In session 6, I briefly talk about how community saves lives, and it rings true for Sofiah too well. Even in her first session, she too is acutely aware of her own ageing, and what she can do to not only spend her years meaningfully—but also keep moving, in order to stay alive. Mortality is also an accidental theme in the Jiwa Galoreez practice, something that younger artists manage to avoid. With the ladies, it is clear that it’s something they think of a lot, and it’s something they want to actively act on.
“I see no point in feeling anything,” Sofiah says. “Nangis tu, sebab syukur mereka ada. Tapi bila tak dah takda, buat apa nak nangis?”
All things go, I think wistfully. We grow, and eventually, it’s time to make space for something else to thrive. I wonder if there is freedom in this indulgence of how limited our life is. As we talk more about these strange ideas of living and death, I find that there is privilege in living—but there is also some in death. To be able to perform, and allow those moments to be ephemeral, prepared to die after it is enacted. To live, even when the world resists your breaths. Like Cik Norizan says, hidup mesti on. There is simply no other way around it.