TWIST OF FATE
Dancer Suhaili Micheline speaks emotion through delicate and powerful movements, striking the odds as she goes along. By Shireen Zainudin.
After being honoured as the Most Outstanding Dancer when she graduated from Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia, in 2005, Suhaili Micheline returned to KL and danced her way to the finals of 8TV’s first-ever So You Think You Can Dance, where her career stratosphered through the local dance community. None of this seemed possible when she was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 12, but perhaps Suhaili was always destined to jeté and tendu a life less ordinary. With much perseverance, she became the dancer she is today.
Our tête-à-tête takes place in a brightly lit dance studio in Aurora Dance School, Petaling Jaya, where pocket-sized ballerinas wander in, listening to instructions about where to wait before daintily trotting out. “My mother, Suraya Ahmad Kamil, opened Aurora in 1989. She’s a dancer herself and trained under Lee Lee Lan, like everyone did back in the day. So now I teach here most days at the school alongside mum, who pretty much runs everything still. It’s a challenge, but a much-welcomed one!” laughs Suhaili.
Dancing from the age of 3 under her mother’s exacting eye, Suhaili showed precocious talent as she went through the rigours of ballet, contemporary, and tap with dancers much older than herself. Today, she divides her time between performing, choreographing, and teaching at illustrious institutions such as the performing arts college Aswara, where she is a part-time dance lecturer.
So You Think You Can Dance introduced Suhaili to the inner workings of the dance industry, where her way was paved into the world of commercial dance, with her singular talent highly sought-after for appearances in concerts and events. Her personal highlight to date is having performed a body mapping and projection piece at a dinner for former US president Barack Obama on his visit to KL in 2015.
While Suhaili finds commercial dance work rewarding enough, she is most fulfilled through performance art pieces. Flatland, in 2013, was a contemporary dance performance she produced, conceptualised, choreographed, and performed in, based on a book by Edwin Abbott. Her retelling of his story received critical acclaim and still remains her proudest staging to date. Nasi Ekonomi, staged under Tepak Tari at Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival in 2015, is another that was strong, quirky, and poignant.
Skin! unveiled at George Town Festival in 2015 in collaboration with theatre company TerryandTheCuz, and was groundbreaking in its depiction of human trafficking. Working with the NGO Tenaganita for the building blocks of the refugee experience, the audience were blindfolded in a container, had their belongings confiscated, with the impotence of refugees thrusted upon them, before being transported to the location where the dance unfolded. To this end, Suhaili works on projects that engage in important issues, weaving contentious topics into her parlance of dance. Not everything she chooses makes for comfortable viewing, but Suhaili believes in carving her own destiny: “My purpose in life is to share this passion with the world, affecting and educating people in a visceral way.”
Suhaili has been described as someone you can’t help but watch. Magical and magnetic, she’s purringly feminine with her extended limbs. Yet, there is pure power in the arc of her pointe, panache in her thrusts of whimsy, charm in her subtle shrugs. She draws inspiration from sources as varied as Indian classical maestro Akram Khan to local dancers such as Bilqis Hijjas. Perhaps, her pendulum just swings in a wider arc than most: a fluid swoop of observation, reflection, and creation, moving us with movement. Skin! will show in Melbourne, Australia, early 2018. More details on www.terryandthecuz.com; @suedanza
Bent on change: Suhaili performing within a container in Skin!, a dance on the crisis of human trafficking