Dancer Norbaizura Abdul Ghani shares her experience in the creation of the contemporary work “Heart Piece” along with choreographer Mohammad Naim Syahrazad.
Dancing and working with emerging choreographer Mohammad Naim Syahrazad (Naim) in creating “Heart Piece” wasn’t our first experience of collaboration—I was also involved in his works “Season” and “Line”. Early in 2013, he asked me to perform his work for the Dance Escalator 2013 project which was organised by MyDance Alliance on 24–26 May 2013, in which Naim represented one of seven selected emerging choreographers. Without hesitation, I agreed. The idea and choreographic theme differed from previous times, and only included three female dancers who were required to speak and manipulate a wooden footstool during the performance. After Dance Escalator, the work was chosen to be further developed from eight minutes to twenty minutes and staged for the event The Mezzanine: Level 2 of Dance Escalator Project from 20–22 December 2013 at The Actors Studio @ KuAsh. The short eight-minute version of “Heart Piece” was subsequently staged in 2014 for the Tari ‘14 festival at ASWARA, and the 20-minute longer version was staged for Reborn 2015 at the Black Box, ASWARA, on 28–29 March 2015.
In the process of creating the choreography, the line-up of dancers, consisting of me, Rabiatul Adawiah Abdul Wahid (Ruby) and Rizianah John (Rizi), were introduced to a work of poetry, “Heart Piece”, composed by Heiner Müller. The poem has two characters, One and Two. I was given the role of Two while Ruby played the role of One and Rizi meanwhile represented a symbolic representation of the inner voices of both One and Two. We had a deep appreciation of the poem, which enabled us as dancers to embody the gravity of the situation related to the choreography. After that, the choreographer began creating movements and directing movement explorations with the dancers one by one, and we made duets with Naim in turn. Naim designed the movements based on the ability of the dancers. This speaks to the spirit of accommodation amongst us all, with the intent to accomplish the choreography smoothly without being forced. In the beginning it was a little difficult to achieve the style that Naim had demonstrated. But after strengthening exercises and repeated explorations, we were able to fulfil his requests. In addition, we were also given tasks to do our own movement explorations based upon the provided text. As each of us held a particular role enshrined in the poem, all of our attempts in the development of the movement were generated based on the playing of the roles themselves.
After a few rehearsal sessions without music, in which we moved according to the time structure established by Naim based on comfort and a feeling of consensus amongst ourselves, Naim began to insert short texts excerpted from the poem to be spoken aloud by Ruby and myself. We used only the first verse as an argument, with loud declamations and emotional display in accordance with the excerpt. This process was challenging because it required the use of strong vocals and the expression of sentences that are soft and gentle yet still showing substantial emotion. My character, Two, had to display sadness, disappointment and suppressed anger caused by the problems and unrest between me and One.
Another challenging process was our attempts to manipulate the wooden stool while dancing. Many movements, like the tossing of the stool between dancers, required agility, focus and delicate control of energy so that no injuries occurred. We explored many possibilities in tossing the stool based on Naim’s instructions, like tossing from short, moderate and far distances, as well as following the different rhythms of our actions and reactions whether slow, moderate or fast. The mutual confidence and cooperation between the three of us were vital in this process.
The final process was the craft of combining all the sections to make a complete choreography. The song “If I Give My Heart to You” by Doris Day was inserted at the beginning of the dance. After that, no songs or music were played, but the performance was accompanied by the sounds of breathing, vocal expressions of the excerpts from the poem, and the sounds of banging and dragging produced by the manipulation of the stool and bodily movements. The work ended with the accompaniment of “Last Song” by Meredith Monk.
The costumes for each performance differed. In the Dance Escalator 2013 project, the costume was themed black and white, whereas the design changed to black, white and grey for Tari ‘14 and Reborn 2015. The choices of costumes were made based on the symbolism and meaning of each colour, such as white reflecting purity while black and grey symbolised darkness and confusion in an event or relationship. The display of strong emotions such as disappointment, sadness and inner conflict through facial expressions and bodily movement also played an important part in the work. But apart from that, it could also change in response to the interpretation of the audience who view the work.
In conclusion, the process of creating “Heart Piece” was quite difficult for me to go through because it not only prioritised dance technique and how the movement was done, but it also emphasised the use of vocals, the display of unfeigned emotions from deep inside, as well as competence in manipulating the wooden stool. Nevertheless, the experience throughout the process of creating the work was extremely interesting. Naim’s investigation of choreographic ideas through movement exploration according to the ability of the dancers but yet challenging in execution created many movements that looked strange but interesting. Some of the ideas that emerged from his thoughts were quite beyond my expectations. And by watching how Ruby and Rizi moved with a clean and orderly control of technique and energy, I was moved and inspired. This valuable experience will surely encourage me to continually seek out knowledge and inspiration for creations that are more meaningful to me in the future!
Norbaizura Abdul Ghani is a lecturer in the Faculty of Dance, ASWARA. More
To contact the author: