Zapin Dayung

By Subhadra Devan

FUN takes a new form with Zapin by Akademi Seni Budaya Dan Warisan Kebangsaan (Aswara), in a special performance for the upcoming Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival 2017.

Since 2010, Aswara has been sending its lecturers to learn Zapin from the old dance masters in the many states of the country. The tokoh (masters) were recently invited to the institution to hold workshops on their particular zapin formats.

The original Zapin form was more of a religious ceremonial affair back in the 15th century when it was brought in by Arab traders, as Zapin history tells it. Over the years, the form was given a local flavour by the Malays, and performed at social gatherings, lending gravitas to the popular saying, "The truest expression of a people is in its dance and in its music".

In Johor alone, variations of the Zapin have emerged including Zapin Tenglu and Zapin Pulau which originate from Mersing and Zapin Koris from Batu Pahat; while from Sabah comes Zapin Arab.

Much of the history and examination of Zapin is owed to Malaysia's zapin scholar, Professor Dr Mohd Anis Md Nor, who has worked with Aswara's Dr Joseph Gonzales, among others, in keeping the traditional form alive for students in the country.

While it is the second time the Aswara team will be performing Zapin for the festival, Yunus, the artistic director, feels the theme chosen for Main Zapin 2017, "Passing Tradition Through Generations" will be well showcased in the upcoming show at Panggung Aniversari in Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur.

"We are going to show the folk styles from the 14 states, because we want everyone to enjoy the differences between these local zapin dances," says Aswara Faculty of Dance dean Mohd Yunus Ismail.

For the show, Aswara has invited groups including the Pezapin group from Kulai Johor, Univerisiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI), Universiti Malaya to perform with the team.

The showcase will feature Zapin Mahpom and Zapin Parit Mastar, as taught by two pioneer dance masters from Johor, Zubaidah Keliwon and Salimi Mohd Shah. Aswara has also held workshops this month for these masters to teach its students.

Schoolchildren have also been learning Zapin, and 12 have been chosen for the show after a recent Main Zapin competition. "The children, aged six to 12, will also perform a new Zapin dance, that will be playful."

Yunus himself got into dance with the Rakan Muda outfit back in his hometown of Batu Pahat in Johor. "I was supposed to be attending computer classes but I went for Malay dance activities instead," recalls the 32-year-old, adding that his dad, an Army man, was not pleased when he found out. "But he has grown used to the idea."

Yunus, 32, an Aswara dance degree graduate majored in bharatnatyam. Among his accolades is winning the BOH Cameronion Arts Award for Most Promising Artist in 2009, and winning The Selangor Young Talent Award Grand Jury Prize in 2011.

He reveals that his hometown offers an interesting version of Zapin Kores, as the dance come from groups on opposite sides of the river. "So, the movements are mirror images of each other!"

Yunus says 100 people will perform for Main Zapin 2017. "Getting everyone together to rehearse for the show is so tough, but everyone has been keeping to the schedules so far.

"The highlight to me is the four masters, most of them in their 60s, performing. You will see Zapin from its roots to the form it is today. The masters have been learning the dance from young, so it's authentic."

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FACT BOX:

Main Zapin 2017

When: Sept 8-10, 3pm, 6pm & 8.30pm

Where: Panggung Anniversary, Lake Gardens, KL

Free admission.