its 20-year history, Five Arts Centre has actively participated in international
collaborations including the ones with Japanese artists. What was the reason behind
the company's interest in collaborations?
From the very beginning, Five Arts Centre has been focused on the cross-disciplinary works as we have members from various areas. Theatre worked with visual arts, visual arts worked with dance and dance worked with music. You will know that such separation is very artificial if you look at any kind of traditional theatre. For example, the Dalang (master) of Wayang Krit (shadow puppet theatre) is everything. He is a musician, a singer, an actor and a puppet maker. But so-called modern theatre created the separation. So, we tried to move back to more integrated style of theatre and that's why our children's theatre program is called "integrated arts". So, collaboration is already quite an intrinsic part of Five Arts Centre.
We found it very enriching. Five Arts is a collective. Our meeting is usually very long but inputs from members are very important. The process is long and tiring, but the result is very good. Same thing can be said for the collaborative work. Sometimes process is very very difficult, tiring and painful, but eventually what you learn from it will be much richer.
Five Arts Centre's major collaboration projects
with Japanese artists include Dance Tonpu II (1996, with Takeya Keiko
Contemporary Dance Company, directed by Makoto Sato, choreographed by Keiko Takeya)
and Spring in Kuala Lumpur (2003, with Pappa Tarahumara, directed by
Hiroshi Koike). Can you compare these two collaborations?
International collaborations are, in a way, very organic mixture of the things.
When Makoto Sato approached with Dance Tonpu II, his opening premise was interesting. We had known Black Tent Theatre since long time ago as their works were very political and our works were also political, maybe not as political as them, though. He was very open and honest about Japan's relation with Southeast Asia — how can Japan have relationship with Southeast Asia. He understood that we had to deal with some of the issues of the war. Hence his and his wife, Keiko Takeya's desire to collaborate with Asian artists — he had already started with PETA of the Philippines especially — was sincere.
They had done the first piece of Dance Tonpu with Indonesian and Thai artists. In it, they just separated sections like this - one section was choreographed by a Thai choreographer and another by Keiko. When they approached us for the part two, I suggested not bringing only dancers from Malaysia because I am from Five Arts' multi disciplinary background. We took one visual artist, one actress/dancer, one musician, one Malaysian Buto dancer and one dancer/choreographer — this is myself. The result was very strange group of people. From Japanese side, other than Keiko herself, there were two contemporary dancers, one Buto dancer and one musician.
The reasons we wanted to collaborate were, firstly, we believed in the work of Makoto and Keiko. Secondly, we believed that the whole concept of the collaboration can provide very rich experience. We used the arts to learn about each other, get through each other and break down so-called cultural stereotypes. At the end of the day, it was not only about the production but also about the whole relationships.
It was one of the most equal collaborations that I have ever experienced. Collaborations always move like this - whoever talks more or has strong ideas tends to colonize the others. Collaboration is often about colonization. But the way this one worked was really attempted to give every one of the ten people time and space to create material and ideas. The structure was very very interesting. And we had Makoto Sato as an artistic director. The outside eye was really required — Makoto's director's eye brought them together eventually.
The interesting thing for me was, when we performed in Japan, Japanese audience said that definitely Malaysian dancers colonized Japanese because vocabulary and style was non-dancing which was very Five Arts style. But when performed here in Malaysia, Malaysian audience said, "Oh, Japanese dancers colonized Malaysians" because it had very Japanese looks in terms of lighting or costumes. When I see Tonpu now, I agree both of the views. It was very meaningful and deep collaboration.
Spring in Kuala Lumpur, I think, let me know that the word "collaboration" has different meanings to different people. After the a few workshops, I realized this was not a collaboration that I had got used to — "I give my ideas, you give your ideas" kind of thing. Hiroshi Koike's idea of collaboration was to put all the performers together and he's the director. Many people said this is not a collaboration. It was director's story, director's vision — especially Hiroshi had a very clear vision — which he wanted to see. So when we moved to the production, I told the performers "Go into this with your eyes open. You will learn a lot. But don't think this is the collaboration in that sense". So I don't know if I should call Spring a collaboration. It was a wonderful experience and eventually the performance was very good. But it was the director directing the whole.
There was performative collaboration, though, through the rehearsal with Japanese performers that was also an upgrading process. But basically performers were requested to realize director's vision. Interesting for me was — maybe this is because I was older in the group — Hiroshi never directed me while he directed the others. In that sense, between him and me, it was a collaboration. As a whole, I don't know how to call it, but it was not a collaboration in the common understanding of it. On the other hand, I believe all the creative work is collaboration. In that sense, Spring also can be called a collaboration. But Tonpu was a real, painful and joyous collaboration. Every minute was the collaborative effort.
Recently I visited Tokyo and watched Setagaya Public Theater's production, Hotel Grand Asia that was a collaboration project among 16 artists from all over Southeast Asia. This gave me a lot of interesting insights about Asian collaboration. What is Asian collaboration and what is Asia — we've been asking these questions for 20 years beginning from Makoto Sato. Now we need to go for new directions. I strongly feel that we need to ask new questions.
The co-founder of Five Arts Centre and the husband of Ms. Marion D'Cruz, Mr. Krishen Jit passed away on 28th April 2005, just one week after this interview was done. He was the most respected and influential theatre practitioner in Malaysia without any doubt. Our deepest condolences to Ms. Marion D'Cruz.