Menyemai Seni… Menjunjung Langit was an online showcase by ASK Dance Company (ADC) to commemorate its 10th anniversary.
Officially registered in 2011, ADC as a dance collective has been proactive in the performing arts scene both local and international. The showcase which ran for 3 days (18 – 20 March 2022) on the online performance platform CloudTheatre showcased nine evergreen repertoires of the company.
The sampling (as listed below) shows various genres of performance that stretched from classical, and traditional to contemporary pieces.
1. Mengadap Rebab
2. Jathiswaram Bahudhari
3. Zapin Sura Siam
5. Spirit of the Wind
7. Ngajat Iban
8. Joget Sauk
9. Langkah 17 (an excerpt)
However, I’m not going to talk about how the performance went. Were their performance selections great? Was it worthy of their name? I’ll have to reserve my personal thoughts for now. There are better, well-versed critics out there who will do more justice to talk about their performance, therefore it is only fair to let them talk about it.
In this article, however, I want to dig further into the title of the showcase. I would like to present my reflection on it, and how it ties to ADC’s vision and goals. I also want to explore why such a title choice reflects greatly ADC as a company that upholds tradition, culture, and the arts.
Roughly, this title can be translated to “Sowing Arts… Upholding the Sky”.
Upon reflection, this is a very well thought name for the showcase. Menyemai Seni… Menjunjung Langit for me does ring a bell on the well-known peribahasa “di mana bumi dipijak, di sana langit dijunjung” (where the earth is trodden by foot, there the heavens are upheld).
While the latter asserts the importance and the need to uphold the culture, custom, and norms of the place we live in, the former adds another nuance to the “bumi dipijak” part, i.e. “menyemai seni“.
It is important to uphold culture and customs (menjunjung langit di bumi yg kita pijak), but ADC looks beyond that. What more to give than simply being there? And that’s where “menyemai seni” comes in.
‘Menyemai’ (sowing) is, in the metaphorical sense, an act of instilling, making sure whatever that needs to be cultivated can be sustained in abundance, across regions and generations. As in the act of menyemai benih (sowing seeds) to ensure more crops can be cultivated, multiply, and sustained for future generations. Thus ADC’s choice of words ‘menyemai seni‘ as I understand it is simply an act to ensure more people know about culture, tradition, and the arts.
By choosing “menyemai seni”, ADC reflects its intention to have seni (art) grow and prosper. To ensure that seni can be cultivated and enjoyed by as many people as possible. To ensure its sustainable existence and development across regions and generations. And this is reiterated in their objective as mentioned in the showcase, “to preserve, to nurture & to empower” arts and culture and their very concise yet deep catchphrase (motto) “Dancing the Malaysian”.
Their brief recollection of what ADC has achieved in a decade since its foundation via various showcases, workshops, and classes really reflects their adherence to this vision. ADC repertoires ranges
from Malaysia’s traditional performing genres covering Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Borneo dances to contemporary pieces that lift the local art scene to a more modern and global stance.
But having repertoires of dance, no matter how vast the range and excellent you are in it, is not enough. Like farming; having lots of various crops is good, but that will serve only for consumption. Without proper development and a sustainable plan, it will deplete.
Plans are needed to ensure that while people can consume more food, there will be enough to replace those that have been consumed. And at the same time, we need to ensure that there are those among the consumers that know how to reproduce them.
This is important to ensure continuity and sustainability of food so that not only we could enjoy it in our time, but also to be sure that generations to come can enjoy it too.
Now just replace food with seni.
Having a wide range of dance repertoire is good. Knowing a lot of dances is great. But we can’t stop there by just being a consumer. The arts need to be developed. Plans are needed to ensure that art, no matter how traditional or borderless they are, can be sustained further into the future, and passed down to future generations.
We need to ensure that whatever collections of art we have can be reproduced by as many people as possible, no matter by which generation.
Knowing this as an important aspect of arts, ADC has picked the right goals.
They’ve also achieved these goals through various performances, productions, and workshops such as Crossing Borders in Bharatanatyam (2014 and 2017) a well-rounded Bharatanatyam showcase (also restaged for International Dance & Music Festival in New Delhi, India in 2014), 3 Faces (2015 and 2020) that presented combinations of Malay, Bharatanatyam, and contemporary dance in one production and Building Bridges (2015-2017), a national dance tour that promoted our local cultures to the whole nation via workshops and performances.
ADC also, since its foundation, has provided various classes for a variety of dances. Through its Malaysian Dance Centre initiative, ADC has become a centre where you can learn both traditional and modern dances such as Zapin, Joget, Bharatanatyam, Ballet, Street Jazz, Contemporary dance, and even Bollywood and KPop. And these are just the regular classes, not taking into account other pop-ups, masterclasses, and other community outreach programmes.
ADC’s Forging Traditions, since its inception in 2017 has been reaching far into the community across Malaysia providing arts education and training which focuses on Malaysian dances for free.
The latest series focuses on Joget and Zapin Malaysia. Forging Tradition and other initiatives taken by ADC display their commitment to making dance education especially those of local variety more accessible and more common. This in the long run will increase cultural literacy among Malaysians.
ADC’s involvement in the art scene really reflects their effort to menyemai seni in the hearts of Malaysians and also to raise Malaysia’s diverse culture and arts heritage to an international level. Giving equal (if not more) focus on Malaysia’s diverse culture and art shows how they really menjunjung langit of this country they are standing on.
Doing so shows that ADC is not just another performing art group. They’ve really drilled into themselves the mission to keep traditions alive and to spread knowledge by ensuring every bit of dance, culture, and knowledge about the arts in general that they know be spread and instilled in as many people they can reach.
With all of these in mind, I believe it is only fair that this work, goals, and vision of ADC be carried farther into the future. It is not just for ADC. This noble cause should exist in all performers and art enthusiasts.
It’s not about just performing the most pieces or being the best performers. It’s also about being the one to spread it, ensuring that arts and culture stay alive and prosper.
Menyemai Seni… Menjunjung Langit is definitely a good choice of name for their showcase. They really embody the essence of it. May ADC keep this momentum and strive for more decades to come by staying faithful to its roots, sow and uphold these cultures we have in Malaysia and be forever successful.
All images in this feature were supplied by ASK Dance Company.