This was the year Kwang Tung Dance Company was supposed to return to the stage with a new production, after 2018’s Bisikan Monsoon, which was a breakthrough performance combining dance, visual arts, music and more.
In a similar multi-disciplinary vein, the company has now launched Merentas Awan, a videography and photography project aimed at raising funds for charity. Conceived by artistic director Amy Len, it is also a determined pivot to continue creating art and giving their dancers a platform, after the Movement Control Order (MCO) and Covid-19 pandemic put paid to their original plans.
The project, which just launched its first series of photos and video in July, will carry on till year end, with one multimedia slide show of photographic works and one dance video released every month.
“There are six themes altogether,” says Wong Pui Yi, a core member of the project and current secretary of the Selangor & KL Kwang Tung Association Youth Section. The project is funded by and parked under this unit.
“Since the youth section’s mandate [is] to do community work, we essentially wanted to combine both the creative objectives of the dance company and that of the youth section with this,” adds Wong.
Len and her team articulated six broad themes that they feel most people would resonate with at the moment — isolation, love, fear, freedom, creativity, and 2020. The name Merentas Awan is rather curious. Wong says the team had wanted a name associated with clouds, envisioning the project as a journal of sorts uploaded into the clouds.
“In Mandarin, yun sounds so good, but in English, people normally associate cloud with cloud computing,” remarks Wong. “But it has a double meaning. There was much talk during the MCO about how clear our skies were, so we also want to evoke the idea that it’s ‘time to look up’. And since ‘merentas’ was also a popular phrase, as we all couldn’t go anywhere, so we could only reach out to each other over the cloud — online or non-physically.”
For composer Ng Chor Guan, it reminds him of the hours he spent looking out the window of his hotel room while in quarantine, watching the clouds go by. Along with film director James Lee, Ng was roped in by Len to create the music for three of the 12 works the project entails.
Both say the process of creating Isolation, the first video and only collaboration they would have together, was a most refreshing and organic one.
“This is a true collaboration,” says Lee, who released his psychological horror film, Two Sisters, in 2019. “I’ve worked with Amy and Kwang Tung before, so I know that with theatre, there’s always little to no budget. What more, this is a semi-charity project, though we were given a small stipend. But that makes it fun and a beautiful thing to do, working with everyone not out of interest, but purely for the art.”
Ng agrees. “Everyone has their own artistic space to work in — musician, director, choreographer and script writer — but it develops into something.” Revealing that it is his first time working with the company, he relishes the opportunity to contribute not only to a good cause but to be able to express an artistic value of his own in the process.
“This moment in time is a rich one creatively, to be able to draw from in terms of emotional expression,” he notes. “We started with a blank sheet, and everyone just came together to share ideas, thoughts on isolation, and how they felt. We would send our respective ideas on movement, sound and visuals into the group, and it came together from there.”
Having worked regularly with dancers and companies, especially in creating improvisational dance music, this time, it was a rather personal experience for Ng, who returned from Germany during the lockdown and had to be isolated for two worrying weeks.
Choosing an electronic sound to reflect the virtual era we live in, he drew from his emotions while in quarantine to create the music. Both repetitive and anxious, there are nevertheless celestial and bright tones of hope. “I was looking forward to the outdoors, to get out of this. Even with a tight rhythmic pattern, the music has a kind of freedom inside.”
Filming dance videos is not new to Lee, having shot Len and dancers like veteran Butoh exponent Lee Swee Keong before. But he says this time, he is able to take it to a new level. “I would say shooting dance movements is very challenging. In the early days, I would just treat it like a stage, with one static angle,” he recounts. It took a dance choreography workshop with Marion D’Cruz to give him a better understanding of movement and its make up.
“I learnt how to dissect dance a bit more, and the approach with angles and levels. That comes through in this video, I believe,” Lee says. It was easy for him to create the idea of a sterile, white room he had in mind, due to Ng’s sharing of his experience and soloist Foong Siew Ching’s sharing of her creative process.
“She was always showing us videos of her practising in a corner. That gave me a very strong visual sense,” he adds. Coupled with the narrative of copywriter Mato Tytee (a nom de plume), the video sees the dancer pulled increasingly into a tight corner, the physical backing up reflective of the mental and emotional strains of isolation.
While the videos are merely uploaded online onto YouTube and Facebook for the public to watch, Wong says the team is working on how better to engage the audience interactively and create more dialogue, with ideas for Q&As and even a physical show at the end of it. “It’s an ongoing process,” she explains.
“Part of the aim is also to get people who don’t normally watch art to do so, besides encouraging them to donate to people in need. We’ve already seen people whom we couldn’t even get to come to our shows — our friends and families — because they said they don’t understand contemporary dance to now sit down and watch it. We hope that as the artists express themselves, those watching would be able to resonate with the emotions put through and reflect deeper on what’s happening around us. Art helps us with that,” concludes Wong.
'Merentas Awan' is in aid of the Persatuan Insan Istimewa Cheras and Persatuan Rumah Caring in Kajang. 100% of the donations collected will go to the beneficiaries. To view the videos and for details on how to donate, see here.
This article first appeared on Aug 3, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.