Poised for flight
New York-bound dancer-choreographer Raziman Sarbini is taking his career to greater heights.
IN a month’s time, Raziman Sarbini will be on a plane heading to New York, this journey halfway across the world marking the start of yet another adventure for this young man from Limbang, Sarawak. For the next three years, the talented dancer, a recipient of a scholarship from Yayasan Sarawak Tunku Abdul Rahman, will be pursuing a Masters in Fine Arts at the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
“I’m very excited about this, it is more than a dream come true!” gushes Raziman, 25, the youngest of eight children.
“New York is the place where many international companies perform, they will do open classes, workshops and auditions. I met with some teachers and students from the university last year, the experience was really inspiring. This was instrumental in my deciding to further my studies in New York and work in a new environment,” he adds.
Never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined being where he is today, he confides. He certainly wasn’t born with dancing shoes on his feet; in school, he was an athlete and thoroughly enjoyed sports.
But a turning point came in the form of an American dance competition show he saw on television when he was 18.
“I watched So You Think You Can Dance and was blown away by the ability of the dancers to do crazy movements that I did not even think was possible for humans!” he recalls.
Back then, the only kind of dance he knew was traditional dance and aerobics, so the dance show really opened up his eyes. “After I saw that show, I really wanted to try to become like them. Since many of these movements were very athletic, I was attracted to the physicality of it, and the ability to produce or portray emotion,” he muses.
The following year, he put in an application to the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (Aswara) in KL, went for an audition, and got accepted.
“My coming to Aswara was filled with insecurities because I did not have a strong foundation in dance, nor had I any real experience,” he says.
But it so turned out to the a step in the right direction for him.
“Studying at Aswara was interesting and also very challenging. There was so much to learn, I had no idea if I could become good, but I was surprised at my development and growth. The teachers at the faculty of dance were just so amazing and patient with me, it just seemed that I was at the right place at the right time,” he relates.
“Raziman brings an intense energy, magnetism, musicality and professionalism onstage. He draws his audiences into his space and shares that passion for dance, making everyone want to be a part of his experience. This is a result of talent he has been blessed with and years of diligent practice,” says the now Hong Kong-based Joseph Gonzales, founder and artistic director of ASK Dance Company, and former dean of dance at Aswara.
Fast forward seven years, here Raziman is now, one foot on home soil and the other ready to step out into the great unknown.
“Today, dance is a huge part of my life, it is something that has already made for an interesting life so far, and now it is going to be a career. My ultimate dream is to work with a professional dance company, for instance, BalletBoyz in Britain, Nederlands Dans Theatre in the Netherlands, Batsheva Dance Theatre in Israel, or even qualify for So You Think You Can Dance in America. How amazing would that be!” says Raziman.
Closer to home, he shares that he would like to contribute to building the dance scene in Malaysia, particularly in his home state of Sarawak.
“There is Sekolah Seni Malaysia and Universiti Sarawak Malaysia, but I believe it is not enough. We must all work together to elevate the standard of dance in Malaysia,” he says.
Before Raziman leaves for the US, he will present No. 7, a two-day mixed bill performance, at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPac), starting today. The performance comprises four works. This production is intended to be a fundraiser to cover some of his expenses abroad, and at the same time help raise the profile of dance and dancers who wish to pursue their dreams.
Three of these dance pieces, Journey, Untitled and No. 7, will see their premiere at this performance, while Dikir, an abstraction of the traditional folk dance theatre of Kelantan that explores the theme of power, has previously been presented in several national and international festivals.
“No. 7 is about me, how I got here and where I am today. Most of the important people in my life are in this show, so it feels personal and special. I would also like to share these precious 75 minutes with the Malaysian audience before I leave for America, and ask for their blessings and their well wishes for this journey because we all need support for a life in the arts,” he says.
He will be dancing in his solo piece, Journey, as well as partnering with the award-winning Suhaili Micheline in No. 7 (which she choreographed). He will also be appearing in the other two pieces.
Currently a principal dancer with homegrown contemporary dance company ASK Dance Company, Raziman has toured to several countries. Notable performances this year include the Yokohama Dance Collection in Japan, the Shantanand Festival in India and the Maybank Performance in London. Last year, he presented I am from 2020 by Taiwanese choreographer Ting Ting Chang for the KL International Arts Festival.
“I really believe that performance is about sharing. It is about giving and it is about telling stories, or conveying emotions. Dance is a non-verbal art form, which means it leaves a lot of room for different interpretations,” says the Aswara graduate, whose training included ballet and contemporary dance, classical and folk dance, improvisation and choreography, as well as sound theoretical grounding in performance studies, history, pedagogy, ethnology and criticism. Raziman completed his studies at Aswara on the Dean’s List and was awarded the Best Dance Graduate 2015.
Raziman shares that it is through dance that he has learned how to better express emotions and tell stories.
“Dance is not just about beauty, it is about storytelling and connecting with people. I believe that I have become a better person through dance, it means everything to me. But I am still small, there is so much more to learn. You can have talent, but without discipline and commitment, you can become so lost. I remind myself every day to remain humble like the padi in the field, to be respectful and to keep on learning,” he says.
Raziman is well aware that it is sometimes from unlikely beginnings that great things are born. And he is determined to see it through.
No. 7 is on at Blackbox Theatre, Damansara Performing Arts Centre, H-01, Empire Damansara, Jalan PJU 8/8, Petaling Jaya, Selangor today (8.30pm) and tomorrow (3pm). Tickets: RM55. Visit: www.dpac.com. my or call 03-4065 0001/0002.
‘At the moment, I find it interesting to see what comes out of combining traditional and contemporary elements in my work,’ says Raziman, who shares that he is currently ‘very movement driven’. — CLASH DONERRIN