Recurring memories and feelings are the gist of 50 stories that Marion D’Cruz brings to the stage this week under ItSelf TerJadi. The work is personal and centres on cancer, Covid-19, the lockdowns, coping, fear, joy, love, humour, gratitude, ageing, death, family, friends and random incidents.
“ItSelf TerJadi drove itself on its own engine. It led itself to this point and that’s why [the title],” says the dancer, choreographer and dance teacher who, to her own amazement, just started writing during the lockdown bubble. “I never intended to make this public. I never planned to present it to anyone.”
Those who have followed this Malaysian pioneer of contemporary dance will know of her experiments and attempts to present different ideas and concepts over more than four decades. But her works, among them Swan Song, Terinai, Urn Piece, Alter Art and Gostan Forward, her last public performance in 2018, have always had a plan, an aim, to create something that can be shared via a workshop or show.
When the stories that make up ItSelf TerJadi started coming, D’Cruz Googled how to be a writer. Of the many tips that popped up, she followed only one. “I went to the document every day for a month. Sometimes, stories would come easily. Sometimes, nothing would happen. Sometimes, [one] would drop into my head at night or random times. I would write them down.
“They tell about cancer, dealing with it, what I felt, what I still feel. Some are emotionally raw, some are full of rage. Some talk about my body in detail. But it’s not all gloom and doom. Some are humorous, some are reflective.
“The work is not prescriptive. I do not intend to give advice or heal people’s troubles. The shortest story is one word and the longest is 428 words. There is no real through line except that all the stories are factual and relate to my life and experiences.”
In the last five years, D’Cruz has been teaching choreography at Aswara (the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage) and managing the Krishen Jit Fund, which encourages and supports experimental creative work in the country. She and her late husband Krishen formed Five Arts Centre in 1984, together with theatre director Chin San Sooi, writer K S Maniam and visual artist Redza Piyadasa.
D’Cruz, who turned 70 last month, looks back to when she started dancing at six, made dances for school concerts at 16 and did professional work at 28. “Yes, that’s long. Too long. Everything has changed — my life, my mind, my thoughts, my desires, my body.
“Ageing is not kind to anyone; I’ve been feeling it in many ways over the past years. I deal with it because I have to. I have no desire to go back and dance like I used to. My body is now dealing with a mastectomy and ageing. My dancer’s body probably has more acute kinaesthetic memory. It never forgets some things.”
Such as choreography. While ItSelf TerJadi is an experimental sharing of stories, not dance, D’Cruz found herself “choreographing” the text as it came to her. “I started doing different things with it: upper case, lower case, numbering stories, giving titles to stories, story form, poem form, strikethroughs, black-outs, tables … I allowed myself to do what I wanted because there was no plan to perform it.”
Arts-ED Penang founder Janet Pillai and writer-cum-theatre educator Charlene Rajendran are involved in the show. The latter prepared a PowerPoint presentation of the text for Zoom readings that D’Cruz did, which prompted suggestions that more people should experience the work.
“Janet is like a director, an outside eye; she watches and makes suggestions. Charlene asks questions, makes me think and re-think, contextualises, suggests — she does what a dramaturg does. That has really helped to shape the work.”
The text dances in more ways, too, with input by multimedia designer Syamsul Azhar, D’Cruz adds.
'ItSelf TerJadi' runs from Dec 7 to 10 (8.30pm and 3pm) at Five Arts Centre, GMBB Kuala Lumpur. For tickets, visit cloudjoi.com. The show is supported by Yayasan Sime Darby, Creador Foundation and The Japan Foundation KL.
This article first appeared on Dec 4, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.