TWIST OF FATE

Dancer Suhaili Miche­line speaks emo­tion through del­i­cate and pow­er­ful move­ments, strik­ing the odds as she goes along. By Shireen Zain­udin.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Culture -

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

Suhaili Miche­line

Bent on change: Suhaili per­form­ing within a con­tainer in Skin!, a dance on the cri­sis of hu­man traf­fick­ing

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