In spirit of Sutra

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Interview Ramli Ibrahim on finding his own path in dance. TAPATI CHOWDURIE

MORE TRADITIONS THAN ONERamli Ibrahim.Photo: K. Murali Kumar
MORE TRADITIONS THAN ONERamli Ibrahim.Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Ramli Ibrahim is a recipient of the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 2011. The Malaysia-born dancer and choreographer known for his spectacular productions featuring Odissi and other dance tradition was recently in India to receive the award. As with all intense quests, his has not been an easy journey, and Ramli is conscious at once of ploughing a lonely furrow as well as of being supported by his audiences without whom an artiste work does not reach fruition. Here the founder of the Sutra dance company talks of his impulses and experiences. Excerpts…

Your name intrigues me. The first part reads like a Hindu name, but the second part is a Muslim name….

The name Ramli is fairly common in Malaysia. I was brought up in a strict Malay Muslim household. I used to draw, sing and dance at the drop of a hat and my young cousins and friends used to be embarrassed by my sheer exhibitionist brazenness.

When did you start to dance?

I was a free spirit, naturally gifted and completely uninhibited. I was exposed to Malay traditional dance but not formally trained as a dancer until much later. As a young teenager, I got admitted to a prestigious military college and had to suppress my natural artistic predilections. In Australia, I began my serious/formal dance training in Ballet and Modern Dance. Later on, my Asian roots pulled me towards my original inclination, which is in Asian dance traditions which I find are intrinsically connected with philosophy, aesthetic and spirituality of the Asian people. I have both teachers in Western dance traditions (Ballet and Modern) and Asian dance traditions (Indian classical, Malay traditional and also Indonesian dances — Balinese and Javanese) for whom I have great respect. My involvement in both traditions, East and West, is a constant and on-going process of integrating the opposite principles: the anima/animus, patriarchal/matriarchal and purush/prakriti polarity of opposites. Through my teachers I got to understand the esoteric concept of ‘union’ of the individual with the Universal Spirit.

What language of dance do you use in your choreography?

I am the sum total of my experience. At the same time, I must know and respect the specific tradition and shastra I happen to be working with in the particular work. A good work is the result of inspired choreography/composition and then theatre is again a combination of music, lighting, marketing and many more. The creation is eventually a living entity whose sum total has to produce an equation which adds up to produce something compellingly beautiful and ready to be appreciated by a rasika/audience.

What inspired you to choose dance as a career option?

I always like to quote Martha Graham, the high-priestess of American dance who pronounced that “I did not choose dance, the Dance chose me!” I absolutely concur with her statement.

What problems do you face as a dancer practising an unusual career in spite of being single?

I have produced so many works. I am not married but my works, my creations are my ‘babies’ so to speak. The act of creation requires an intense focus and deep involvement. I create both in traditional and contemporary modern modes and each work has its own creative impulses. I never listen to others who pronounce this or that is more brilliant… the works have their creative trajectories, destinies and brilliance of the moment.

How have the people of Malaysia accepted you as a dancer and your dancing?

The Malaysian people have been my real supporters, though the art is full of its own politics. Malaysia has its own ‘blind spots’ but each artist has to deal with this as part of the challenge of being an artist.

What are your feelings about the SNA Award?

I first heard the news of getting the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in October, 2012 over phone from friends who called from India. In general, I have many, many wonderful friends in India who are supportive of what Sutra does. The award means a strong recognition of our work.

I am the sum total of my experience.

At the same time,

I must know and respect the specific tradition and shastra.



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