What is Malay dance like? Muhammad Noramin Bin Mohamed Farid explains

Artiste Muhammad Noramin Bin Mohamed Farid on what drew him to Malay dance

As a young boy, Muhammad Noramin Bin Mohamed Farid, fell in love with dance when he saw Malay dance on television for the first time during Hari Raya. He had always been a hyperactive kid, dancing around his house in Singapore to express himself through movements. But his introduction to traditional Malay dance was a moment of discovery — he would later use this art form to create work that challenged the normative notions of class, ethnicity, gender and identity. The Singapore-based artiste, is now the joint artistic director of Bhumi Collective (based in London) and vice president of a traditional Malay dance group, DIAN Dancers.

Muhammad’s work most often juxtaposes the traditional quality of Malay dance with other contemporary art forms — to create work that questions society. “Malay dance is about Nature, what we witness about Nature and how it gives us knowledge. This inspires me to see what I can create,” says the artiste, who is currently pursuing a PhD in Dance at Royal Holloway, University of London. He also believes in “soft expressions” — insignificant movements are picked out and chosen to improvise on, he says. “I get inspired seeing my students performing such concepts. I try to understand why they would move in a certain manner and see how I can incorporate their stories in my work,” says the artiste. Malay dance isn’t traditional to the point of having to be preserved, he says. “I think it is dynamic and has evolved. It’s an eclectic form of expression in which we have incorporated gestures, philosophies from other communities around us,” he continues.

Favourite spaces

The Singapore Botanical Gardens and Changi Airport are his favourite spots in Singapore, to work on. Both these places have a lot of greenery around them, which inspires Muhammad. “Why airport? Because the idea of travel, of bringing my work to a different place and introducing it to different people thrills me,” he continues. Though he is based in Southeast Asia now for research purposes, his time in London exposed him to an international audience with differing expectations. He says, “In London, there are three categories of audiences: first we have Singaporeans or Southeast Asians who have lived there for the longest time but have not seen their own forms being practised. They are very nostalgic when they see such forms. Then there are those who love these forms for their heritage and culture, it satisfies their craving for antiquity. Beyond this, there is also an audience who is open to the idea of making what is traditional contemporary as well.”

It has not always been a smooth journey for Muhammad, when it came to making the traditional form relevant in today’s day and age. He says, “We had to balance criticism from both sides — purist dance practitioners who would prefer not to push boundaries and also from those who see Malay dance as outdated. Regardless of the challenge, this is worth living and fighting for.”

Muhammad Noramin Bin Mohamed Farid was in Chennai, for the Arts for Good (A4G) Fellowship, a part of Singapore International Foundation’s Arts for Good initiative, which seeks to create collaborations between Singaporean artists and their international counterparts.

In this series, we feature people who continue to work as they travel

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 11:11:54 AM |

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