Into the light

This ex­per­i­men­tal show de­fies theatre con­ven­tions with its role re­ver­sal con­cept.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Arts - By HARIATI AZIZAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

IF a story is a pre­cious light in a world so dark – to bor­row from chil­dren’s writer Kate DiCamillo – can the light be a story?

Ac­claimed light­ing de­signer Mac Chan def­i­nitely thinks so, and this is the no­tion he ex­plores in his lat­est project Ter­ba­lik ... Mesti Kena Mata ... with Five Arts Cen­tre.

Un­like Chan’s past theatre works where he “ser­vices” the cre­ation of the di­rec­tor or chore­og­ra­pher with his light­ing de­sign, in this ex­per­i­men­tal work­shop per­for­mance, it is the di­rec­tors – in this case Marion D’Cruz and Ivy Josiah – who have to com­mit to his light­ing cre­ation and re­alise his vi­sion.

The light­ing de­sign here is like the script that the co-di­rec­tors have to in­ter­pret with the per­form­ers, Chan ex­plains the con­cept of the show that at­tempts to de­con­struct the nor­mal hi­er­ar­chy found in per­for­mance mak­ing.

“If play­wrights use words, as a light­ing de­signer, light­ing is my tool. I use lights to say what I want to say,” he says.

So in­stead of di­a­logue and stage di­rec­tions, he ex­presses his mean­ing in a sym­phony of light pulses and flick­ers coloured by vary­ing in­ten­sity of glow.

For Ter­ba­lik, which will be staged at Ko­tak @ Five Arts Cen­tre in Ta­man Tun Dr Ismail in KL from Aug 10-13, Chan is in­spired by death for his “script”, which is di­vided into three acts named Song I, Song II and Song III.

“I was drawn to the dark­ness of light – with its bright, lively en­ergy, light also has a dark side, its shad­ows. And if you talk about light bulbs, each one has a life span ... af­ter a cer­tain point a light bulb will blow out. I find it ironic that some­thing that is sup­posed to pro­vide you hope and di­rec­tion also can die, is not per­ma­nent,” he says.

This tran­sience of life as de­picted by Chan is in­ter­preted by the per­form­ers, who in their own right are not your con­ven­tional theatre mak­ers ei­ther – vis­ual artist chi too, dance move­ment psy­chother­a­pist Janet Moo, videog­ra­pher/light­ing de­signer Syam­sul Azhar, and art di­rec­tor/pro­duc­tion de­signer Wong Tay Sy – with their own sto­ries of dis­ap­pear­ance and loss.

Im­mersed in the lightscape, they weave their mem­o­ries of a de­stroyed child­hood home, lost beloved pet and fear of los­ing a friend. Moo re­counts her loss of a child­hood men­tor, Pas­tor Ray­mond Koh, whose mys­te­ri­ous ab­duc­tion has gripped the na­tion these past few months.

The doom and gloom notwith­stand­ing, Ter­ba­lik stir­ringly sparkles with hope, hu­mour and even joy through the cracks of the dark shad­ows.

That is the power of the light, says Syam­sul.

While the cre­ation process is the same, hav­ing to draw inspiration from the light­ing is fresh and ex­cit­ing, he adds.

“It is my first time to do some­thing com­ing out from lights, and as a light­ing de­signer it is in­ter­est­ing to see the lights from ‘the other side’.”

Watch­ing the com­pleted work was also an il­lu­mi­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for Chan.

“I didn’t know what my light­ing de­sign would evoke in the per­form­ers, and watch­ing the per­for­mance they have cre­ated has given me a com­plete pic­ture of what I en­vi­sioned in my de­sign,” shares the four-time win­ner of the Boh Camero­nian Best Light­ing De­sign award.

“This ap­proach has opened up a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion of how col­lab­o­ra­tion can be done in theatre in terms of se­quence and re­la­tion­ship.”

The un­usual con­cept is what at­tracted Josiah to take on Ter­ba­lik as her di­rec­to­rial de­but.

“All my life, my work has been to up­set hi­er­ar­chy and chal­lenge the es­tab­lish­ment, so this project is a good fit,” says Josiah, the women’s rights ac­tivist who is also mak­ing her full-time re­turn to the arts af­ter some 18 years.

She says she could not have found a bet­ter part­ner than her long-time friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor D’Cruz. Josiah be­gan danc­ing with Marion D’Cruz and Dancers in 1983 and has per­formed in sev­eral Five Arts Cen­tre pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing Sin­te­sis 84, Let Me Speak and The Cord.

Break­ing the rules is ar­guably the norm for D’Cruz whose work has gone through many phases since she broke onto the Malaysian arts scene, from the search for a Malaysian iden­tity in con­tem­po­rary dance to work­ing with “non-per­form­ers”.

This cur­rent phase for D’Cruz, who is one of the pi­o­neers of con­tem­po­rary dance in Malaysia, has re­volved around the democrati­sa­tion of the artis­tic space.

“If you look at my whole tra­jec­tory of mak­ing per­for­mance, you can see that I’ve al­ways been find­ing al­ter­na­tive ways of cre­at­ing,” says D’Cruz.

“In the last 10 years, I’ve been con­sciously look­ing at democ­racy and the shrink­ing of demo­cratic space in the pub­lic sphere by ex­plor­ing how we can make art-mak­ing a more demo­cratic process,” she adds, high­light­ing Bunga Mang­gar Bunga Raya (2007) in which the per­form­ers were given the space to ex­plore their cho­sen themes, and 2 Minute So­los (2013), which puts the au­di­ence in the act.

Why she wanted to shift the power bal­ance in Ter­ba­lik, she says, is in re­sponse to the “grouses” of the light­ing de­sign­ers them­selves.

“Over the years, I have heard many light­ing de­sign­ers grum­bling, ‘yeah, we are here just to serve the di­rec­tor’ and ‘why is light­ing al­ways the last thing to come in?’ So...”

Still, let­ting go of the di­rec­tor’s “ab­so­lute power” has not been easy, jokes D’Cruz, whose mantra in the process has been “Will the light­ing de­signer ask the di­rec­tor to get the ac­tor to say a line three times to fit the light­ing?” every time she is tempted to ask Chan to change his light­ing queues and ar­range­ment.

Josiah agrees, “The process has been a rev­e­la­tion – we just had to ride the wave and get in­ti­mate with the lights ...”

What is clear, Ter­ba­lik prom­ises a shin­ing spectacle like no other – all you need to do is to just sit back and sur­ren­der to the light. But, maybe, it’s best not to for­get your shades.

Ter­ba­lik ... Mesti Kena Mata ... is on at Ko­tak @ Five Arts Cen­tre, 27, Lorong Datuk Su­laiman 7, Ta­man Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur from Aug 10-12 at 8.30pm with matinee at 3pm on Aug 12-13. En­try is by min­i­mum do­na­tion of RM30 (adults), RM20 (stu­dents). For en­quiries/book­ings, email: fivearts­cen­tre@gmail.com or call 03-7725 4858. FB: Five Arts Cen­tre. View­ers are ad­vised to wear dark glasses if sen­si­tive to bright lights.

— Five Arts Cen­tre

Ac­tor chi too in Ter­ba­lik ... Mesti Kena Mata ..., an ex­per­i­men­tal work­shop per­for­mance that chal­lenges the typ­i­cal hi­er­ar­chy be­tween the di­rec­tor and light­ing de­signer in per­for­mance mak­ing.

— Pho­tos: M. AZHAR ARIF/The Star

In the show, an in­tense Moo re­counts her loss of a child­hood men­tor.

In Ter­ba­lik, di­rec­tors D’Cruz (left) and Josiah are look­ing to in­tro­duce an un­usual col­lab­o­ra­tive work that will be led by light­ing de­signer Chan.

‘If play­wrights use words, as a light­ing de­signer, light­ing is my tool. I use lights to say what I want to say,’ says Chan.

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