Last year when I met Azanin Ahmad (on a casual visit to her studio), she was dressed in a 'rich' purple blouse with a pair of equally rich emerald green pants. Her finger nails then, were painted blood red. This time when I went to see her, I was surprised to see her in an all black attire and her finger nails, almost black in colour with a tinge of purple.


"Has my appearance changed since the last you saw me?" she asked. "The colours!" was my response, "you're all in black now. Why?"

"Working at this performance has changed my bright colours for awhile." The performance she refers to is Tun Fatimah. This performance took place late last month for three nights. I had the opportunity to catch up with this exceptional artist ( despite her busy schedule) a few weeks before her performance for an exclusive interview. She answered all my questions in detail, starting of first with when she realised that life was her dance.

Azanin : I have always liked to dance. I have always liked music but when I went to Australia, then I think I reaffirmed my whole being and knew that I was definitely going to dance for the rest of my life. In terms of the spiritual sense, I mix a lot with my gurus [teachers] (all the old ones). the wayang kulit gurus, the Mak Yong gurus and the Gamelan group from Terengganu. When I mix with them, spiritually they enhance me further. We feel that we are very much together. Maybe in a different life. Even though the age gap is so great, we feel that we have met before, so the connection, the warm feeling is there.

It comes from a certain energy...I am not talking about a physical matter but something to do with the energy forces around us. Things we cannot see, feel or touch. Of course we can touch it with our hearts, but not in the real sense. It has a lot to do with the mind. When you delve into the classical art forms, history and archaeology, you cannot run away from the natural forces around you, unless you are a machine, then you won't feel it. An artist is a very sensitive person, so when you meet people, you don't just read the person on the surface level, you go much deeper. You look or search for things in a person that is totally different from what other people look for. Your sense of value, your sense of time and presence become highly sensitive. It is only at this level, can one be in the arts and also to be aware of the atmosphere around us, not just people, but everything...animals, the leaves, the grass, the insects...all these are elements which firm our lives.


Not many people feel the way you do. Do you find it hard to live in this world?

...in this modern high technology world? No, not really, when I was a child yes, because you need friends and people who surrounded me thought I was abnormal because I did not have many friends. Even my parents used to ask me why I could not be like any other children! Now, however, I can live in both worlds. At times it is very lonely because there are not many of us around. I think I have come to terms with myself. I don't really need people. I just immerse myself in my art form, in my research, my dance, classical music and I do a lot of reading of literature and the arts. I am very happy and I am most happy when I am with my old musicians, my old gurus and my old Mak Yong gurus (some of which have passed on). I am at total ease with these people. Of course they are not around me all the time but as and when they are, that is sufficient. Apart from that, you live normally. It is difficult in one sense, you do need to talk to somebody, you do need to communicate, however, if the person has not reached the thinking level as me, I rather not communicate. I would rather remain alone. Sometimes when you are alone, it is easier to free your mind in the silence of the night.


Your performance (in general) revolves mostly around women ('dewis') who passes inner strength and 'energy' forces so strong. Is there a reason for this?

As an artistic director it is my instinct to release the energy forces out of my dancers. I search in my dancers the raw nerve that needs to be touched. Each of my dancers respond differently as each are individuals. The meeting on stage with dancers with strong angin (air) , lifts the performance. This encounter gives an additional dimension. I can think of only one male dancer who is truly possessed with the 'angin'. We once made the Earth move in Australia. My female dancers are usually cast in groups and perhaps collectively they draw on each other's strength to radiate that energy field. There is quite a battle on stage as their collective presence is exerted.

Do you think women in the past were given more respect compared to the present day?

It depends on how far you want to go. In ancient societies of the Asiatic archipelago the custodians of 'knowledge of the senses' were women. They were the final arbitrator between man and nature. In this respect, they were held in respect and reverence.


Emotions of sensuality is aroused when I see you perform. Are you aware that you exude such a sensation?

The human body is a language and dance is its vocabulary. There is a dancer in all of us. Some express it in writing, others in their speech, yet others in quiet meditation. All these motions release sensations. On stage I know that I am in absolute control and in charge. This gives me an inner peace. I am aware that when I move I hear the heartbeat of the audience. This mass union of energies created by the performer and the audience must be releasing sensations beyond comprehension.

Your characters express with ease visually through body gestures and facial expressions the emotion eroticism which literally means, the use of sexually arousing or pleasing symbolisms in literature or art and which is derived from the Greek word erotikos which means love, as in , eros.

Do you think that women suppress the above emotion in some fear that they will be looked down upon?

Go to any market, not the supermarkets where plastic cards are met with plastic smiles, and release your senses. The market interaction of people is one huge theatre of great living pleasure. In Kota Bharu, Kuala Terengganu, Pekan, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, the great markets are dominated by women. They move the produce of the earth without fear and inhibitions. Look and feel their body gestures and facial expressions. The urban plastic world has forgotten the natural state and spend more time worrying and pondering the loss.


When you give a performance, can you feel the positive energy from the audience?

Oh! Yes, definitely, very positive energy and also from my 'own' people, the musicians, my dancers, etc. It is a certain force, I must be giving it to them, and I get the response from them. Being an artist you have the energy, the power to give and also receive. It is crucial not only to give, but to receive and then to transmit that energy, the forces that empower you. Sometimes people might feel that this is too awesome but that is the way it is and a true artist will be able to do that. I do not know if it is too strong to say this but it is a gift from heaven. One cannot just learn it, you cannot just have it, it has to be given to you and you will know it.

These senses are highly refined, one cannot describe it but a highly sensitive audience that picks up on it...ah, then...oh, my god!, they will enjoy the production so much. Like when I was in Japan, there was this row of Japanese ladies (probably in the 70s) who were fantastic. I think they went into a trance when the heard the music---very hypnotic, goes on and on, very magical, mysterious, so refined and so beautiful. This type of music, performed today---tomorrow, has to capture the exact moment and once captured, ah! Then you will know the inner sense of beauty. Otherwise, you will only view beauty from its outward appearance..."...fantastic sets, fantastic costumes, umm...ok-lah the dance", all this is on a superficial level. For classical theatre especially, you have to go deeper. Only then you will feel the psychic energy present.

 


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