Contemporary Dance in PeTA Tari

Norsafini Jafar recounts the diverse themes and ideas showcased in contemporary dance works by undergraduate Dance students at ASWARA for their final year assessment in 2015.

PeTa Tari 2015 was a unique event because it highlighted the physical capabilities and creative capacities that students had developed through their studies at the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage, Malaysia (ASWARA). It was not just a dance event, but a cross-cultural process that was an eye-opening experience for everyone involved.

PeTa (Penilaian Tahun Akhir, or “Final Year Assessment”) is a compulsory project that each student at completes as a prerequisite for obtaining their undergraduate degree. The project can take the form of a performance, a creation, or research, and the choice depends on a student’s interest, their Cumulative Grade Point Average, and the advice of their tutor, who is selected by the Dean of the Faculty.

In 2015, 19 students from the Bachelor of Arts in Dance program at ASWARA were about to complete their studies (17 specializing in performance and two in choreography). PeTA Tari 2015 was held for five nights from 10 till 15 June 2015 at the Black Box in ASWARA. The students were evaluated not just through their performances but also the working process and viva voce sessions (question and answer sessions with internal and external panelists). The viva sessions were the most challenging because a candidate had to be ready to be “confronted” by questions regarding their experience creating the performance and also their general knowledge of dance, in areas such as:

  1. Dance shapes, structures and styles
  2. Theories on performance
  3. Translation of dance terms
  4. The costumes and makeup used in the performance

Other than facing questions that were technical and critical in nature, students also had to demonstrate certain movements when asked. Among the external panelists chosen for PeTA Tari 2015 were Hazfan Zannie Hamza and Mohd Yusoff Mohamed Nor.

PeTA Tari 2015 began with the genre of traditional dance on 10 June 2015. Thereafter, on 12 June 2015, PeTA Tari 2015 continued with the genres of neoclassical ballet and contemporary dance.

The candidates for the specialization in contemporary dance performance were Siti Fatin Nadzirah Pedi (Fatin), Wan Nurul Atilia Wan Mazlan (Athilia) and Pengiran Khairul Qayyum Awang Omar (Qayyum). The three of them were assessed through contemporary works by Aida Redza, Mohd Yunus Ismail, Milena Sidorova and A. Aris A. Kadir. The overall title of their performance for the evening was Tiga (“Three”), which was made up of 6 individual works. “Full Moon” (by Milena Sidorova) was a solo performance by Qayyum, which depicts a person who always has nightmares whenever the moon is full. This piece resulted from a class Qayyum had taken on dance reconstruction. “Tujuh Puteri” (“Seven Princesses”, by A. Aris A. Kadir) on the other hand, was a solo performance by Fatin, which she describes in the synopsis as follows:  “For the sake of womankind, muster the courage to not fear death. For the sake of love, and womanhood, follow your desires”. Fatin’s tutor, Norbaizura Abd Ghani, was the original dancer in this piece, who performed it in JAMU 2010. The performance continued with a solo by Athilia titled “Jarum Berseri” (“The Radiant Needle”, by Mohd Yunus Ismail).

There were two duets in Tiga—“Sri Kandi” (A. Aris A. Kadir) and “Ta’a” (Aida Redza). “Sri Kandi”, danced by Qayyum and Fatin, portrayed a wife’s matriarchal power. “Ta’a”, performed by Qayyum and Athila, likewise touched on the tension between genders in a family; Athilia and Qayyum had previously trained with Aida Redza in Penang. Tiga ended with “Nasi Putih” (A. Aris A. Kadir), and is about a wife that resorts to black magic to gain her husband’s attention. The tutors for Qayyum, Fatin and Athilia were Joseph Gonzales, Norbaizura Abd Gani and Mohd Yunus Ismail respectively.

On the same night, another candidate named Raziman Sarbini, who hails from Sarawak and who had chosen ballet as his major with performance as his specialization, was assessed on his solo titled “The Murder He Wrote”.

On 14 June 2015, four works were staged by five more candidates who had chosen performance as their specialization. The first work, with the title “Rooted in Silat”, was guided by Joseph Gonzales and performed by Nurfasilah Yahya (Fasilah) and Mohd Nurulazmie Zanal Abdden (Azmi). The piece employed silat as its main element in movement exploration and feel, and was presented in the form of a contemporary dance. Although the use of joget gamelan and Western dance techniques were also incorporated in the work, the element of silat as its starting point still shone through. The work was based on Ramlee Awang Murshid’s novel, Cinta Sang Ratu (“The Queen’s Love”).

Azmi and Fasilah danced in solos, duets and in a group. In his solo, Azmi displayed his competence in silat with “Sunan” (by his silat master, Mawlid Zaenie Asjhad Zaenie) whereas Fasilah performed a joget gamelan piece in the form of a kreasi baru (“new creation”) piece titled “Sang Ratu Sulaman” (“The Embroidery Queen”, Norsafini Jafar). Azmi also performed two duets—“Gelut”(“Wrestle”, by Mawlid) with his friend Helmi, and “Ratna” (“Gem”), which was created by Azmi himself along with Fasilah. “Ratna” was previously performed by Azmi and Nuur Faliza Saad in Short + Sweet Malaysia (2012) and in Take Off (2013). Their group piece, “Sulong” (“Eldest Child”), was choreographed by Adzwa Sani.

The showcase continued with a performance by Anna Lee See Wan titled “Mulan”, choreographed by Chew Sie Ting and Fione Chia Yan Wei. She was mentored by Mohd Nur Faillul Adam.

Hasmizan Abdul Hamid (Mizan) and Izzazly Fikri Kamri rounded up the night. Their piece, “Mizz”, rooted its story in the theme of life. Elements from contemporary dance, postmodern dance, hip hop and street dance were chosen as building blocks. Mizan’s solo, “All I Want”, was choreographed by Naim Syahrazad and had hope as its theme, which was symbolized with flowers as props. Izzazly’s solo, “Heel Lung”, was choreographed by Faillul Adam.

Mizan and Izzazly displayed two duets titled “Cerita-cerita” (“Stories”, by Marion D’Cruz), in which they combined spoken text and movement, displaying vocal variance and emotional range. The piece was inspired by Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi’s zero degrees. Another duet, “Collapzation” by Suhaili Ahmad Kamil, was based on elements from the dance form vogue, and toyed with movement patterns drawn by index fingers. Their work ended with a piece by Arliana Mansor that showcased the dance styles of hip hop and street dance.

The final night of PeTa Tari 2015 showcased productions by two students specializing in choreography, Al Jabar Laura and Nurul Nadhirah Mohd Razid. They were each required to produce two contemporary dance works incorporating traditional and free-form elements separately. For the free-form choreographic work, Jabar made “Semula” (“Again”), which was based on the concept of repeating specific movements that tease out a person’s personality, physical qualities, and body movements in prayer. Nadhirah, on the other hand, created “Illness”, which asked the question, “Will we speak the truth or otherwise?”.

Jabar’s other piece, titled “Facing the Future”, was based on traditional elements. He utilized the basic movements of the kuda pasu (“porcelain horse”) and the traditional wedding procession of the Sama-Bajau community. In the procession, the bride and groom are not allowed to step on soil until both have reached the dais; the ritual was conceptualized and arranged into a piece about not stepping on the ground. Nadhirah’s “Madu” (“Honey”) displayed the emotional strife between two wives forced to share a husband. “Madu”, previously shown in Gelombang Baru 2014, was fixed and polished for PeTA Tari 2015.


Norsafini Jafar is a lecturer in the Faculty of Dance, ASWARA. More

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Featured photo: “Illness” by Nurul Nadhirah Mohd Razid, Black Box, ASWARA, 15 June 2015. Photo © LH Tang