I wanted to begin this post by sharing with you guys, how affected I was with the many things that had happened in the past few weeks. I was considering an over-sharing of all the different “performances” I have observed in the past weeks, with people, families in rituals and collective routines, in the spaces of mundane activities, that I find so revolting to be a part of.
I am constantly reminded of Noor Effendy Ibrahim’s works, and I laugh quietly to myself as I recall the performance that I was part of in SI WOOF WOOF and Sitikay. I recall that there were many moments that space was created for a specific undressing of conventional comforts. While he did not exactly dictate our choreography, or specify the movements that we worked on, the performance was mostly rooted in how we found ways to be comfortable with discomfort.
(photo credit Shawn Byron Danker)
Discomfort is a very funny concept. There are several things that our bodies are taught: how to sit properly, how to stand, how to touch our loved ones. We are a culmination of our experiences, layers and layers of ghosts from our pasts, ghosts from our present. Our co-actors form the many ghosts that also haunt our bodies, transferring energy, affecting where we physically move or place body parts, and how we connect body parts is another matter. Touch between men and women have always been policed. We are punished by morality, and religion, when the touch is unrecognisable as heterosexual, or performing a certain function. If I break this down, it means that our bodies are un-learning its performative value, and this is sufficient enough a provocation for discomfort, not just for the actor themselves, but for the audience watching them. The triangulation between the actors’ body, the audience, and the performance-making becomes very apparent in the rehearsal process. On hindsight, the body movement then becomes the center of focus. We are not given dialogue, but the narrative is there. Oh the narrative is there! The narrative then also becomes part of an extended metaphor in how we are all now in this weird space of discomfort.
If we break it down even further, discomfort is merely a construct. The body becomes a site of politic. What is deemed as comfortable and who defines this? At some point through human progress, our bodies have become objects in the exploration of these everyday routines of love and affection. It has forced me to be more critical of how people perceive one another, of how I view my relationships, and how others portray and perform their relationships.
(<– alamak this photo so bad quality la, go see here)
Another way discomfort is employed, is using gags, and body-altering devices. I remember first using a mouth-gag and feeling appalled that this was a source of sexual stimulation for a specific community. But with time, I realise that these mouth-gags also become a source of politics and meaning, and the meanings that I drew from them, and how they felt on me, evolved. Everything is so loaded with meanings, we have become a race of people so defined by the value and concept we place on things. I (sometimes) understand why people often misunderstand the story, because they are so focussed on the minute things that are employed as complimentary tools, that they miss the larger exploration. Or is it? Or have we been trained to ignore the big picture anyway? We are constantly very narrow in our focus on things. These objects that alter the body, also play another role. Back in crip theory class, I recall being so fascinated by the concept of the prosthesis. How the prosthesis functions as an extension to the body, and in doing so, exists in a very liminal state of meaning.
(photo credit from here)
For example, we are taught to recognise that a blind person has shades and a walking stick. These items become his prosthesis, hinting at an extension of the body, but at the same hinting at an absence of these senses. Same goes to prosthetic legs, arms or any other body parts. Same with mouth gags, the mouth and the jaw structure, and how we can or cannot speak with it on, becomes a very interesting point of meaning-making. The other way these items also add layers to the body, is how they transform the body into machines. Have you seen all the fancy new robots that have been invented recently? Their gears and shifts all mimic human parts, in fact, our joints and our physique bodies are ultimately a type of machine. But of course, many people argue that the difference between machines and humans lie in the terrain that humans are sentient (I would like to argue that I have met a lot of seemingly sentient people but they’re all like really un-sentient!) but if we remove consciousness and this sentient notion of performance as human, the body does really become a machine after all, right?
Whilst I, and Indian body is part of his process (which I slowly realise does focus a lot of Malay male bodies), I do recognise that our bodies are all democratised in the rehearsal space because they are all equally broken down into a sum of parts. Therefore it seems as if the performances contain more dream-like, nightmarish sequences because that’s what dreams and nightmares do! It undoes, it breaks things into parts, this sense of incompletion is incongruent to our cultural makeup. In this sense, it really is obvious why the misunderstanding of the performance pieces can be fatal.
(photo credit here)
I recall thinking very hard about the intimacies that I was introduced to. First, having done only Theatre in Tamil language before, this was a sudden breakout, into a space where the audiences might be right beside you as you perform an act that most would deem INAPPROPRIATE (but what is inappropriate, who defines this and why do we all follow these rules? My gender-politic friends and Simone De Beauvoir fanatics please stand up). How does a performance expose performance to audiences in a performance? Confused? Or Super intelligent? The intimate touch also extended to how we performed as an ensemble, touching one another, constantly working through the different layers that expose these touches. Of course, while I was in the rehearsal process, I didn’t see all of this. These layers only come to me much later on, when I rethink and rewatch performances.
I remember when I was working on Si Ti Kay (the addition in Bangkok in 2015, and the one that was part of Singapore Fringe Festival in 2017) and Si Woof Woof (, and having experiencing a very different and difficult time with my ailing mother. The emotions that I experienced, were harnessed of course, but not in a way that most directors employ emotional memory. In this sense, Noor Effendy Ibrahim became a sort of Shaman, in allowing performers to access the other end of the binary, and then come back safely. He was more of a gateway or a door, he opened up both worlds between the performative and the un-performative (I just made this up!) and then the space becomes a site of both ends. This is really quite like drama-therapy, where the performers are allowed to be “possessed” by these “demons” and then they return after all of it, the torture, the punishment, the discomfort, back to a safe zone. It takes a keen awareness of the mechanics of performance, to be able to create such access ways between both “worlds”. In that sense, I am a Magic Bimbo or akulah BIMBO SAKTI is a hilarious approach to his role in facilitating these performances. I mean have you seen his bio? He is erm, not a bimbo. And there is a very careful and calculated approach to putting these bodies onstage and making them do these things that are so integral to human nature.
Therefore I am probably quite excited to watch Cerita Cinta. This one has dialogue apparently, and after kaypoh-ing in a rehearsal, I feel that the approach is similar, yet it has evolved to excavate more layers of performance especially that of a Malay household. Effendy’s work has always been such sites of reflection and conversation, a safe space for people to really argue, see things and understand how bodies, time and relationships are broken down. This script is also a rework of the play that he wrote in 1995. What inspires me to always watch his performances, is that each work exists in a continuum. The excavation of human identity never gets old, it is refreshed, filled with new insights, pushing the bodies in new ways that make them sit within an in-between space of recognisable and unrecognisable. There is always something very beautiful in the brokenness of the relationships portrayed. For someone who has had experienced some tumultuous and terrible family drama, his plays give me a source of catharsis, and I always feel like these layers, when peeled back, helps me understand and come to terms with the people in my life (even the ones that I have cut off). It is very much like watching performances in the gallery and being allowed the space to stand or sit and just observe the aesthetics of a piece without judgement, and being provided multiple ways to access it. I am always allowed the space to take away things that I feel for, and leave the rest of it behind in my subconscious.
If you all also kaypoh and want to go see, the link is here.