She has done dance, socio-political pieces and is known for brilliantly different choreography. Marion D’Cruz talks to Subhadra Devan about taking Gostan Forward to another stage
WHAT was it like being a Malaysian in the 1980s, trying to find national identity through dance?
Datin Marion D’Cruz’s Gostan Forward offers an answer with her autobiographical account, encompassing her body of work spanning more than 37 years.
Dancer, choreographer, producer and teacher, D’Cruz has offered her one-woman shows to many an audience around the country since 2009.
Performed through excerpts of her works by the artiste herself, Gostan is so compelling that D’Cruz has been invited to perform it again tomorrow at Sunway University in Petaling Jaya, at a Japanese contemporary dance festival on Feb 24 and the 35th Singapore Arts Festival in June. D’Cruz will also perform her 1988 Urn Piece at the latter festival.
Gostan was first performed at the Annexe Gallery, Central Market in 2009, a show which also marked Five Arts Centre’s 25th anniversary, of which D’Cruz is a founding member.
The experiences in Gostan include her feelings on the national anthem, on becoming one of the two women to become a wayang kulit dalang, her search for a Malaysian identity at home and abroad, and on building a vocabulary for contemporary dance.
The selected works include the Urn Piece, Makna (when D’Cruz went to New York in 1980-1981), Swan Song (1998, with fellow artiste Anne James) and Bunga Manggar Bunga Raya (2007), created when D’Cruz lost her husband, Datuk Krishen Jit, and for a nation that had “lost its plot”.
In the audience, if you are in the 40-over age group, Gostan evokes similar memories of being a Malaysian then and now.
For those in their 20s, Gostan’s director Mark Teh, 31, says it “offers memories different from those I have”.
The performance, he explains, “offers a sense of how the landscape of the arts has changed, the choices made for artistry, how the personal interacts with dance history and national history”.
“Marion comes the pioneering generation of local contemporary dance. I am post-1969. These are different from the memories I have. No one had seen her dance in my generation. I wanted to bring her kind of politics to a younger audience,” says Teh.
For D’Cruz, born in 1953, it’s “just a performance”.
“I might cry on stage, about losing my husband... but I am performing.
“I know, on one hand, I look like I am sitting and chatting... ,” she says with a dimpled grin, “but it is an intense time for me.
“Gostan Forward comes from deep honesty and integrity, so it’s easier for the audience to embrace it. There are no pretensions. I am an extremely skilled performer but, especially in Gostan, the stories have to come from a place of deep investigation and honesty. Or the audience will know.”
HOW IT STARTED
Sitting in her quiet home, surrounded by knick-knacks of memories, D’Cruz recalls that Gostan began during a Five Arts Centre discussion at her home in Medan Damansara in Kuala Lumpur.
“It was after Soraya Yusoff Talismail’s exhibition of black and white portraits of Malaysian artistes in 2008, where the image of me dancing with a Balinese topeng tua was popular in advertising the show.
“Mark said to me that this picture is seen everywhere, with the caption, ‘dance-choreographer Marion D’Cruz’, but actually there is a huge group of people in their 20s and 30s who have never seen me dance.
“So he threw me a challenge, to tell my story. And that’s how it began.”
FIVE ARTS CENTRE
Five Arts Centre, co-founded by D’Cruz with theatre directors Chin San Sooi and Krishen, is known in Malaysia as a collective of artistes, producers and non-performers focussed on generating alternative art forms.
“Five Arts has always been about telling Malaysian stories and socio-political commentary. So, Gostan is right up its alley through so many layers,” says D’Cruz.
“It’s experimental, but it’s not new. This business of revealing, doing the autobiographical in a performance mode, has been happening in this region for about six years, since Jerome Bel.”
Paris-based contemporary dancer Bel did Pichet Klunchun and Myself in 2005. It was a performance lecture, offering a deconstruction of dance where movements were broken down and explained to the audience. Malaysia’s Ramli Ibrahim once did the same for odissi a few decades ago, adds D’Cruz.
D’Cruz agrees that Gostan Forward breaches the Fourth Wall, that imaginary boundary between stage and audience.
“There’s not a lot of it today. People are scared to do it. The way Gostan Forward is set up also helps, and the way the audience is situated.”
She sees who’s in the audience, and asks them to take part in the segments they were once involved in. The audience members have so far included writer-teacher Charlene Rajendran and multi-talented Noraini Jane Ariffin.
“There are times when I have spoken directly to the audience. Like when I was reading an SMS from Julian Jeyaseelan, and he was in the audience. So I turned to him. I was looking at him directly. And he said ‘Me? I don’t remember!’ and I said, ‘yes, you’. We had a little exchange.
“It’s unrehearsed. The audience enjoyed the intimacy or was disgusted, I don’t know,” recalls D’Cruz of one her Gostan shows.
Asked if any part is rehearsed, D’Cruz says not in a strict sense.
Teh explains that the moment with Anne James began when she attended a rehearsal.
“For me, it was an out-of-body experience. I am an inveterate watcher of old videos of theatre. I do it to understand our history.
“I hadn’t seen Swan Song performed live. When Marion was rehearsing it, Anne was present, and they just got on with it... taking the formation I had only previously seen in video. They had done the show in 1991, but in 2009, they still had it in their bodies. While older, it put meaning to this poem about the prostitute.”
Adds D’Cruz: “It’s done in such an open way that people don’t feel afraid to take part. So that Fourth Wall is not removed completely... it keeps collapsing and coming up.”
D-CRUZ ON TEH
“Mark is so clever. He made Gostan,” says D’Cruz.
Describing her young director as “clear and gentle”, D’Cruz says she “trusts him completely”.
“I am very goody-two-shoes as a performer. I am at rehearsals really early,” she adds, dimpling again.
TEH ON D’CRUZ
D’Cruz is “engaging, graceful and funny”, says Teh. “She knows how to wield her skill.”
Every Gostan revisit sees new segments in the show. “Every time the location or city is different, I changed it a bit,” says Teh.
“My instinct is that Marion’s work and memory needs to be shared. It’s very easy to direct Marion, and very liberating. She has worked with non-actors, non-performers. She’s trained in many forms, her dance vocabulary is huge.
“It’s liberating, because usually in local theatre, the director is also training the actors, who are usually young. On any given night, the people on stage in Malaysia are young.
“With Marion, I don’t need to ask so much, or show so much. The choices I make as a director are different.
“It can be a little bit intimidating. I’ve never worked with someone with so much experience. And we’ve been friends for a long time.”
Would Kobe get Gostan, this Malaysian journey? “The notion of a journey a person makes, will translate,” says Teh. “Post-colonial Japan will get the search for a national identity, the quest for a national dance vocabulary.”
Since that 2009 show, Gostan has brought D’Cruz countless emails and calls.
“I guess the stories are open enough. While it’s a personal history, people are hooked because there is a parallel history which resonates with them. Take Operation Lallang. They have their own stories.
“It takes a lot out of me... Why did I say yes to Kobe? Don’t know, stupidity? It’s fun to perform it. Rewarding, and always a learning experience.
“How is it going to work in Japan? No idea. I think the Japanese actually understand English more than they let on.
“While the specificity of local stories and history may not be so potent abroad, the story of the dancer, the journey, the whole New York thing, with East-West experimentation... there is enough stuff for hooks and memories.”
D’Cruz brought Gostan Forward to Singapore in 2010, for a project called Belongings. She says talks to perform Gostan for the 35th Singapore Arts Festival started then.
Come June 1, Gostan Forward will be presented as part of ConversAsians 2012, a platform organised by Esplanade Theatres by the Bay that focuses artistes sharing their creative processes.
She will do a 90-minute show, and a workshop. “I know, it’s a bit like, ‘oh dear’. But what is exciting for me is I am to moderate a talk by Akram Khan!”
D’Cruz is also chuffed about doing her seminal work, the Urn Piece, for the festival. Now called Dream Country, the 45-minute-long dance will employ 35 urns, 35 performers, under four directors.
It was first called the Urn Piece back in 1991 and created for three performers. It was inspired by a monologue entitled Dream Country, written by Malaysian playwright Leow Puay Tin. The dance presents images of birth, life and death.
Says Singapore Arts Festival general manager Low Kee Hong: “One of Marion’s most personal work to date, Gostan gives a fantastic insight into Marion as an artiste.
“Of course, Gostan also references a lot of our shared history between Malaysia and Singapore on the artistic and political fronts.”
On Dream Country, Low says: “Marion’s Dream Country for the Singapore Arts Festival 2012 will feature a collaborative effort of four women writer directors and 35 women drawn from different sectors of Singaporean community.
“As a large scale outdoor installation performance, this community focused piece is another gathering of sorts, of women from different backgrounds, sharing a powerful vision of Marion’s, about looking for your country, your sense of place.”
For director Teh, Gostan is “all rather strange and interesting”.
But for D’Cruz, taking Gostan abroad is another milestone in her evolvement as an artiste with a rich foundation of Asian and Western dance.
Get a taste of Gostan Foward on
(free, limited audience), 5pm
Venue: Roof Top Theatre, Department of Performance & Media studio, 4th Floor, Sunway University, 5, Jalan Universiti, Bandar Sunway, Petaling Jaya
KOBE-Asia Contemporary Dance Festival #2
Dates: Feb 24-25
When and where: June 1 @ Esplanade
Dream Country (urn piece)
When and where: May 31 and June 1 @ Esplanade Park, open-air and free performance