Musings of an Intercultural Dramaturg


Photo: M.J. Chung

Part of the Invisible Diaries series:

Week 9 / Day 4

Week 9 / Day 3

Week 9 / Day 2

Week 9 / Day 1

Introduction

Being born of Chinese descent in the Malaysian pluralistic society sets you up for certain kinds of socio-cultural, political and even aesthetic negotiations. Made up of about 67% Malay, 25% Chinese, and 7% Indian ethnicities (2011, www.dosm.gov.my), the potent cultural mixing and mingling – not to mention the postcolonial racial and cultural politics that have been rife since Malaysia’s independence in 1957 – resulted in most Malaysians being able to navigate multicultural relations in their daily living.


I won’t go into details here as enough has been academically written on Malaysian multicultural society, but I wanted to point this out to set the stage (literally, even) on how the performing arts community is made richer and complex due to the myriad cultural and aesthetic practices that permeate our performance practices, especially contemporary performance. Case in point is yours truly. While stumbling along the early days of being the novice dance dramaturg, I was also pursuing my doctoral studies at the National University of Singapore, where the island state of Singapore also informed my performance practice along multicultural and intercultural lines.


Singapore’s national arts centre Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay played a huge role in shaping my intercultural dramaturgy practice. In the early days of its very own annual dance festival, Esplanade was focused on and invested in commissioning Southeast Asian contemporary choreographers. One such artist is Thailand’s Pichet Klunchun, most famous on the global stage for his lecture-performance with Jérôme Bel, Pichet Klunchun and Myself (2007). Presently, Pichet is so much more than that much-circulated performance, having progressed in his own dance company to innovate and contemporise classical body techniques to present striking performances. There was always a clear mission and vision to Pichet’s choreographic experimentation, which is to develop his classical Thai dance drama Khon into his own performance signature.


I was fortunate to have been involved dramaturgically in Pichet’s works in 2011 (Black and White (Khon) and in 2016 (Dancing with Death). Full disclosure: both of these dance projects were spearheaded by Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, which allowed me (along with Pichet and his dancers) the luxury of time, space and finances to create, workshop and process.