A Week in Melaka

Posted on November 29, 2013


In room art

We have just returned from a very exciting, exhausting and expansive week in Melaka. We were two of the fifty artists performing in Melaka Arts and Performance Festival, a three day adventure that takes place in and around the various locations of the beautiful ruins of St Paul’s Hill, in the heart of the UNESCO world heritage listed, city centre. The festival is in its’ fifth year and was the largest to date. It is the creation of Tony Yap and Andrew Ching and this year involved 4 site-specific performances, 34 improvisation, over 19 short works, a film festival, visual art installation, workshops and an artist forum. The festival has gained enough support that it is now expanding to Melbourne and has a sister festival in Indonesia, The Art Island Festival.

We arrived in Melaka on Wednesday night, with the goal/challenge of constructing a new work in two days, no mean feet. We checked into our hotel, where most of the artists were staying and immediately set to work. First, we went Op shopping, AKA found the local Bundle and bought ourselves some overalls. We then set up an instillation in our room. We felt the best way to get the creative juices flowing would be to surround ourselves with art so we stuck posters, flyers, shoes, and a map of Australia to the wall (with strapping tape), moved the furniture around, hung rope from walls to ceiling to the Television and left a pile on the floor, we draped our new costumes over chairs and hung them against doors and by the time we were finished we felt that regardless of how our performance in the festival went, we had successful created some art in Melaka.

The next morning we found ourselves some fabulous vintage bicycles, with baskets to boot, and cycled our way to our performance site, Middle Landing.  At first we were a little overwhelmed, it was hot, really hot, the site was massive and somewhat problematic in that it comprised of cement tiling, a bumpy grass oval, trees, rocks, a hill and some ruins. We predicted that most of our audience would view from above, at least 50meters away. All of our previous work has dealt mainly in intimate performance spaces, small theatres, basements, elevators etc. This expansive space offered far more possibility, endless room to move and yet none of the cosy comforts we have so easily come to rely on. So we brain stormed, debated, argued a little, bought some more overalls and then devised a plan. Finally we stopped trying to bring more things into the space and realised how much the space already offered.

We wanted the work to be based on our full-length work but more so, we wanted to make this work specifically for the site. Creating a work in a studio and then placing it in a non-traditional space doesn’t make it “site specific”, there must be the essence of the place in the work. We considered what an audience might see from so far away, and what they might see if they broke convention and came down into the site. We took time to play individually, to feel which environment appealed to each of us and how the different landscapes influenced our movement.

We cycled to what we termed ‘our local’, and over some delicious satay and teh tarik we set a score and planned how the recording of Aluba’s music would help structure the piece. Retiring to Prima Hotel, with a mild case of heat stroke and some serious sunburn, we slept, nervous for a dress run and the opening of the festival the next day.

St Paul's Church

The site and the old town of Melaka are at the heart of this festival. The space has so much history and a sense of the past that just being there is quite powerful, performing there is another thing altogether. The Festival itself brings together a huge array of artists from all over the globe and really does become a melting pot of culture, talent and exchange. The Festival was officially opened with speeches from directors, programmers, funders, a performance by some of the artists, and more media then you can poke a stick at. This was followed by Cheryl Stock’s Naik Naik, a multi-site, promenade performance, set at dusk to an incredible sound score that connected the entire space and those within it. The piece allowed each audience member to go on their own individual journey, watching the six performers explore and inhabit the space. Naik Naik concluded by leading the audience into St Paul’s Church where Cerita Pendek (Short Works) took place. Most of the artists performed a 10minute (or there about) work within this section of the festival, highlights for us being Kembang Ati by Agung Gunawan and Deasylina Da Ary and Motek ve Melech by Ashley McLellan and Harrison Hall. This was the general structure for the night performances. In the day, several improvisations took place bringing together different groupings of artists. As St Paul’s Hill is a hugely popular tourist site in Melaka the audience was generally fairly large and it was easy to grab their attention despite the myriad of vibrant and loudly decorated trishaws blasting pop music for all the world to hear.

Our performance was part of the Site Specific program and took part during the day but was separate to the improvised Mapping Program. We performed Saturday and Sunday at 12noon (HOT), and had a surprisingly wonderful experience. The audience did watch from above as suspected, but also lots of people came down into the space and watched from the perimeter, literally creating a 360-degree performance space. The work was really well received and generally people appreciated the use of space, and commented on how distinct our style and aesthetic was from a lot of the other performances. To top it off, the overalls did the trick. We had chosen quite bold colours, white and royal blue, which stood out against the bright green grass and terracotta tiles, creating a bold, almost prime colour palette. They certainly helped avoid more sunburn and grass rash in any case. We are proud of the work we made and performed, keeping our integrity in creating something true to our style, whilst adapting to and with the space. Artistically it was challenging, rewarding, refreshing.
MAP Festival

The festival concluded with Eulogy for the Living, which involved all artists in a semi-structured improvisation. A powerful component envisaged and implemented by Tony Yap was an on going stream of people entering the Church one-by-one, lying in the centre, taking a final breathe, and accepting the idea of their own death. The ending was also very moving with all artists entering and lying on stage with a final performance from Agung, dancing through, between and around the bodies. This years Eulogy was tributed to the memory of the late I Sura Nyoman, a friend and artist of the festival.

It was really quite amazing to spend the week cycling around the old town of Melaka, which is quite beautiful and eccentric at the same time, a crazy collision of culture and eras. It was really lovely to spend time with Eliza from Asialink, Bilqis and some of the other artists from Rimbun Dahan who travelled to Melaka for the festival. It was nice, also to be a part of an artistically diverse community who were all incredibly passionate about what they do, to be reminded of why we do what we do and to note that the world of performance is immense and limitless. 

Coming up:

Uncommon Ground @ FAB

Wednesday 4 December
Fonteyn Studio Theatre
5th Floor Wisma FAB, 1-3 Jalan 14/22, 46200 Petaling Jaya
Uncommon Ground
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