Monday, 12 September 2011

from the belly of the crocodile

We're over halfway through the workshops now. Today we had a morning off, so we went to the Sarawak Ethnological Museum. It's a weird place: one building with several dimly lit rooms scattered with glass cases of poorly-labelled, dead and mounted animals. Apart from one shining gallery, sponsored by Shell, about the petroleum industry in Sarawak and Shell's extensive contributions to progress in Malaysia. Entirely unbiased, of course. The museum's not about to win any prizes.

There is, however, one dusty glass case containing three items: a broken watch, a hairball as big as a cannonball, and a set of dentures. All of which were extracted from the stomach of a man-eating crocodile shot in 1996. Am I callous, or is that indeed grotesquely funny?

This afternoon we led a general workshop open to any of the dancers and staff at the Sarawak Cultural Village where we've been working. It went quite well I think; we introduced them to some theatre games, so plain ol' fun games, and then an hour of Jamaican dancehall led by one of the actors in our group. Everyone seemed to enjoy the lesson; it's about as far from nyajat as you could get.

This has been a fascinating process so far. I suppose I'd been worried at the beginning that little of our "Western" theatre training and approach would make sense. In a categorised skill-exchange, I didn't feel I'd have anything to bring to the table that the local dancers would see as having value. After three days of work, I still think that might be the case. I just play games. Quite a lot.

The first day was decidedly awkward: the dancers shy, uncertain what any of us wanted from them. But they've come out of their shells for sure. We are, I hope, progressing in the nyajat lessons they are giving us. In return, I feel we've given the women a space to share their stories - about their families, the journeys of their lives, their children, their experiences as female performers. Many of them have worked at SCV for a decade, sometimes more. They find it funny that I have to look for work every day. But I suppose I've got more freedom in the exercise of my creativity. But then, does that even matter to them?

They play so well: games that I've grown too familiar with have become more real in this studio space.

I'm desperately curious to see what else surfaces over the next couple of days.

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