The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Contents
Marion D'CRUZ
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Marion D'CRUZ
Five Arts Centre representative
Five Arts Centre is an artist organization founded in 1984. Its activities center on the five arts of dance, drama, visual arts, music and children's theater. The Centre works actively toward the nurturing of young artists and promoting arts in ways that stimulate local societies.Ms. D'Cruz is one of the founding members of the Five Arts Centre and is presently active as one of its representative members. She is one of Malaysia's representative dancers and choreographers and constantly a leading presence in the country's dance world.
Presenter Interview
2005.5.17
The activities of the Five Arts Center, toward the creation of contemporary Malaysian theater  
 
Before we enter our interview with Marion D'Cruz, let us talk a quick look at the status of the performing arts in Malaysia.
Malaysia is a multi-racial country with three main ethnic groups, the Malays, Chinese-descent Malaysians and Indian-descent Malaysians. These groups coexist in Malaysian society while retaining a strong sense of their respective ethnic identities. This unique social situation is often referred to as the "Malaysian type multiethnic society." For example, in the primary public education system, there are not only schools taught in the national language, Malay, but also schools that teach in either the Chinese or Tamil languages, thus enabling children to study in their mother tongues. English is also widely used, thus making this a "multilingual society" where most of the people understand two or more languages.
Needless to say, there are considerable difficulties involved in keeping this type of society functioning. And, in fact, there was an eruption of interracial strife in 1969 that took many lives. The social situation has also led the government to initiate an affirmative action program known as the Bumiputra policies, which are aimed at improving the socio-economic status of the majority Malays who have long been the most economically disadvantaged of the three main ethnic groups.
It can be said that the Malaysian theater arts world also reflects these social conditions. Theater companies naturally tend to be formed by people of the same linguistic group and there are not always active exchanges between groups based in the different languages. It is the same with the audiences, with a separate audiences existing in each of the three main linguistic groups.
Due to the constant potential for interracial strife, it is forbidden to make public statements relating to religious or ethnic problems, and in the theater world, productions are subject to strict censorship by the regional censorship bureaus concerning contents. Also, due to the Bumiputra policies, most of the government funding for the performing arts goes to Malay theater companies. Also, most of the productions staged in the national theaters are in Malay, with the natural exception of invited foreign productions. Private-sector theater companies get most of their financial support from corporations, and most of the theaters where they perform are smaller facilities with seating capacity of 300 or less. However, 2005 saw the opening of the first large-scale private-sector theater facility, the KL Performing Arts Centre in the nation's capital, Kuala Lumpur. Now much attention is now focused on how this facility will be used.
Within this social background, the artist organization Five Arts Centre has been one of the major presences in the Malaysian performing arts world for two decades. In this month's presenter interview we talk with one of the founding members of the Five Arts Centre, Marion D'Cruz, about her activities with the Centre and as one of Malaysia's representative dancers and choreographers.

(Interviewer: Ken Takiguchi)


Five Arts Centre can be described as an "artist collective" rather than a theatre company. I believe this is a quite unique organization in Malaysia. How was Five Arts Centre established? What was the intention in creating this company?
When Five Arts started, it was the time when the idea of "local playwrights" was not established. Some companies did English language theatre, but all the way foreign plays — Shakespeare, Chekhov, Tennessee Williams — mainly either American or British. These plays were considered as the high standards. There was very little consciousness or desire to create English language theatre that is the Malaysian folklore. Some English language plays were written as early as 70s by the people such as K Das or Lloyd Fernando, but they were staged mainly by university groups — there was no sense that professional theatre could be tapping into local playwrights. So, when Five Arts Centre was created, it was created mainly with the intention of giving space to homegrown theatre, Malaysian creativity. And actually that have been the intention of Five Arts Centre right up to now. Initially Five Arts Centre had five members, namely director/playwright Chin San Sooi, director Krishen Jit, playwright KS Maniam, visual artist Piyadasa and myself — a dancer and choreographer. That time, it was a very loose organization, just five people coming to the theatre. Piyadasa did set design for us then although he didn't stay long. KS Maniam stayed till 1995 and then left (also didn't stay long,) but he played a big role in the early days because the early pieces we staged were written by him and Chin San Sooi. Actually, the very first play Five Arts Centre did was KS Maniam's The Cord. It was in 1984. It was staged for a week and it was very unusual for most so-called English language theatre audience then to do that long and do a lot of publicity for an English language play. The audience was so divided at the time — it is divided even now, though — into English language theatre, Malay language theatre, Chinese language theatre and so on. We never call ourselves "English language theatre" although we're still pursuing English language plays. But, actually, over 20 years, our theatre has done things in Malay, bilingual or even trilingual. More than 80 productions were done so far, but almost all of them were creations of Malaysians with very few exceptions.

Now, Five Arts Centre has 13 members from various generations. How has the company grown?
In the first 10 years, various people worked with Five Arts Centre. Although they were not our members, they can be called the "core" people. In 1994, Krishen got the idea - "Now we're 10 years old. Let's call the people who have worked with us and ask them if they want to become a member. We should be organized a little bit more". At that time, we were only three of us — Chin San Sooi, Krishen and myself operating out of my house. We had a small studio but paid rental from our salary — everything was very ad hoc basis. But things were happening and happening and we decided to call people. We also decided to do a series of things in every area to celebrate our 10th year. That's how we started to get our members and develop the whole idea of the artist collective. Legally, of course, there are directors of the company, but there's no one artistic director who's going to decide the vision of the company.
And by that time in 1994, we identified five areas that Five Arts Centre deals with, which were theatre, dance, music, young people's theatre and visual arts. We got people who are in administrative side as well by then. And we've kept inviting people to become a member of Five Arts Centre.
We were very lucky to have attracted the young generations. It is interesting that many young people are serious to do arts in full-time basis now. This was very unusual in Malaysia before — it is very healthy and exciting. Five Arts Centre has a group of young artists called Akshen that was originally formed by the group of students of a college. We invited them to make a strategic alliance in which Five Arts Centre provides them a rehearsal space to develop their work and ideas and in exchange they help us in the front of house and so on. One of the members of Akshen started a community project to confront the racial issue in the community where racial conflict happened recently. They are now starting director's workshops. These young members are now an important part of the work and vision of Five Arts Centre.
I feel that these young practitioners have very different concerns but very very bright and committed. I think we should start handing over the company to these young generations. If you hand over with trust, they will take it. I feel fine even if the vision of the company changes because of it.
 
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