More than a meet­ing

The 1955 Bal­ing Talks gets the doc­u­men­tary treat­ment on stage.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ARTS - By DI­NESH KU­MAR MAGANATHAN star2@ thes­tar. com. my

THE com­mu­nist in­sur­gency in Malaya, which led to the Malayan Emer­gency ( 1948- 1960), was one of the blood­i­est con­flicts in our na­tion’s his­tory.

The Malayan Com­mu­nist Party’s ( MCP) aim was to over­throw the Bri­tish ad­min­is­tra­tion of Malaya. The state of Emer­gency, de­clared by the Bri­tish ad­min­is­tra­tion, stalled the progress of the na­tion’s in­de­pen­dence move­ment.

A so­lu­tion needed to be found to move the in­de­pen­dence plans for­ward. In 1955, a meet­ing be­tween lead­ers from both sides was called and this came to be known as the Bal­ing Talks in Kedah.

It saw Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man, the chief min­is­ter of the Fed­er­a­tion of Malaya, David Marshall, the chief min­is­ter of Sin­ga­pore, and the MCP leader Chin Peng brought to the ta­ble in an at­tempt to bro­ker a peace deal.

The talks, as we have read in his­tory books, were un­suc­cess­ful be­cause the sur­ren­der terms were not ac­cept­able to the MCP. But how many of us ac­tu­ally know what was said dur­ing the two- day meet­ing in that Bal­ing school­room?

Five Arts Cen­tre’s tour­ing pro­duc­tion Bal­ing takes an in­sight­ful look at one of our coun­try’s most defin­ing meet­ings.

Bal­ing, di­rected by Mark Teh, opens tonight at Five Arts Cen­tre Stu­dio in Taman Tun Dr Is­mail in Kuala Lumpur.

The cast in­cludes theatre veteran Anne James, film­maker Imri Na­su­tion, ac­tor Faiq Syazwan Kuhiri and ac­tivist/ ac­tor Fahmi Fadzil.

“The doc­u­men­tary per­for­mance is cen­tred on pub­lic doc­u­ments and tran­scripts from the Bal­ing Talks,” says Teh, 34, who adds that the per­form­ers will be read­ing ex­cerpts of the talk.

“They will pro­vide their own per­spec­tives on how the ghosts of our his­tory con­tinue to haunt our present – in strange and un­ex­pected ways.” he elab­o­rates.

Teh is a lec­turer at the Depart­ment of Per­for­mance And Me­dia, Sun­way Univer­sity and is a mem­ber of Five Arts Cen­tre.

The 100- minute show pre­miered at the Open­ing Festival of the Asian Arts Theatre in Gwangju, South Korea last Septem­ber and it has gone on to play in In­dia, Ja­pan and the United Arab Emi­rates this year.

Af­ter the show’s KL stop, Bal­ing will tour Ger­many and re­turn to Asia just in time for the Ky­oto Ex­per­i­ment 2016 Au­tumn Sea­son in Ja­pan.

Faiq ad­mits that he had doubts about the ap­peal of the show’s themes ( Malaysian his­tory and pol­i­tics) to a for­eign au­di­ence.

How­ever, his fears were quelled when the shows abroad were well- re­ceived.

“They ( the for­eign au­di­ence) were engrossed in the show and could re­late to the con­tent and story,” says Faiq.

Teh adds that the idea of real ques­tion­ing and re­think­ing of the “na­tion” ap­pealed to the­atre­go­ers abroad.

“This has been a par­tic­u­larly com­mon re­ac­tion in the con­tem­po­rary Asian con­text – the need to ques­tion more,” says Teh.

How­ever, what the tour has shown is that doc­u­men­tary per­for­mances in Asia are not as preva­lent as reg­u­lar theatre shows.

“There is a grow­ing in­ter­est in this form of theatre. Prac­ti­tion­ers see it as strat­egy to deal with his­tor­i­cal or re­cent events and their con­se­quences,” he main­tains.

“Im­por­tant ques­tions are also posed about the pol­i­tics of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and how you deal with per­spec­tives and truth. The per­form­ers here are of­ten not only ac­tors, but peo­ple who are close to the sub­ject mat­ter – through work or re­search. They are ‘ so­cial ac­tors.’”

In­ter­est­ingly, Bal­ing had its be­gin­nings back in 2005 when Teh di­rected and de­vised a 60- minute phys­i­cal theatre per­for­mance based on the his­tor­i­cal tran­scripts. It took on many dif­fer­ent forms over the years and toured around the coun­try to uni­ver­si­ties, col­leges and fut­sal cen­tres.

Bal­ing even played at three li­braries in Lon­don.

For the lat­est ver­sion of Bal­ing, the pro­duc­tion team vis­ited sev­eral sites re­lated to the 1955 talks, in­clud­ing the ac­tual school in Bal­ing ( where the talks took place). They also stud­ied how the talks and main pro­tag­o­nists have been por­trayed in gov­ern­ment his­tory text­books and other sources.

“How is ‘ Malaysian’ his­tory read? Who is telling the story? How do traces of the past con­tinue to in­fect and af­fect the present?

“Malaysian his­tory is quite frag­mented and we have used the idea of ‘ frag­ments’ in terms of pre­sent­ing our dif­fer­ent scenes,” ex­plains Teh.

Pro­duc­tion de­signer Wong Tay Sy also adds that Bal­ing does not have a cen­tre stage area. In­stead it has mul­ti­ple per­for­mance spa­ces.

“We felt it will be in­ter­est­ing if the set of each scene is pre­sented as an ‘ in­stal­la­tion’. The au­di­ence will be en­cour­aged to move around. Get a dif­fer­ent view of the show. Each per­for­mance space will be de­con­structed and re­con­structed through­out the whole show,” ex­plains Wong.

Bal­ing opens tonight at Five Arts Cen­tre, 27 and 27A, Lorong Datuk Su­laiman 7, Taman Tun Dr Is­mail in Kuala Lumpur. En­try is by do­na­tion of RM40 ( adults) and RM20 ( stu­dents and se­nior cit­i­zens). The show will run un­til April 3. Lim­ited tick­ets left for the April 2 show. The rest of the shows have sold out. For book­ings, email fivearts­cen­tre@ gmail. com or call 017- 3465 108. Face­book: Five Arts Cen­tre.

The Bal­ing per­form­ers ( from left) Imri na­su­tion, Fahmi Fadzil and Anne James in a tense scene from the doc­u­men­tary play. The show al­lows the au­di­ence to ob­serve and in­ter­pret for them­selves what had been dis­cussed in the Bal­ing Talks held in 1955. — Asian Arts Theatre

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