Joseph Gonzales is a man of many thoughts. The professor recently shared some of these insights during a keynote speech at TARI’19, the annual international dance festival organised by the National Arts Academy, better known as Aswara (Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan).
He sits down with Options in the lobby of the academy — located in a quiet area in Jalan Tun Ismail, Kuala Lumpur — after the festival’s opening and recaps some of what he shared in his speech. “I spoke about empowering the artist, and how that possibly can empower society as well,” he summarises.
It seems apt that we are chatting while sitting on the edge of a makeshift stage, as students gather in preparation to rehearse their latest performance. One cannot help but wonder if Gonzales has any sentiment for this place, having poured his heart and soul into Aswara for 22 years. He was instrumental in the shaping of its dance faculty while serving as dean for 17 years, before leaving in 2016.
But if his speech is any indication, Gonzales has moved on to bigger things, though at one point, he pauses in a moment of reflection and says, “I think I have done everything I could with this institution”.
At age 59, when most people would be thinking about winding down and, maybe, their retirement plans, the choreographer and lecturer is into his third year as the head of Academic Studies & MFA at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts’ School of Dance.
He calls himself an adventurer, the description uttered without fanfare when asked about his decision to uproot himself, move to the fast-paced city and start all over again. He acknowledges that it would have been far more comfortable to remain at home, even though his tenure at Aswara had begun to frustrate him. “But as I boarded that plane to go to Hong Kong, I did give myself a pat on the back for having the courage to go to a place where I actually didn’t know that many people and where I had to prove myself all over again. I did it in my twenties and I was doing it again in my fifties — how fabulous!”
Relishing his time in Hong Kong, Gonzales says it has been an eye-opening experience, especially in the area of academic management. He has immersed himself in new dance ideologies and approaches, among other things, which has inspired his third book, Koreografi Kontemporari Malaysia — published by Gerakbudaya and launched at TARI’19.
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