Up Close and Personal December 5, 2019 – Posted in: In The News – Tags: ,

By Regina Hoo

Rosnan Rahman in performance.

Meet Rosnan Rahman, Malaysia’s only active male Pak Yong dancer. A USM architecture graduate, Rosnan was introduced to the world of Mak Yong by Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin, and took to it like a duck to water. “I fell in love with it — the authenticity and the uniqueness of music, costume, dance and history of Mak Yong is very different from other art forms within the performing arts sphere.”

As with most performing arts, the trifecta of dancing, singing and acting is a prerequisite in a Mak Yong performance. “If you observe closely the dances of Mak Yong, you’ll see that the movements are similar to tai chi – it’s soft, very graceful and is a great way to exercise multiple muscles. For me, Mak Yong is a therapy, a therapeutic dance of feelings and emotions,” he says, adding that improvisation is also a necessity. “The performers are given a rough idea of the story line, and we just take it from there, experimenting with the dialogue as the scenes progress.”

There was, admittedly, the initial awkwardness that Rosnan had to overcome early in his career. He explains, “History would suggest a Pak Yong must be played by a woman, but you’d be surprised to know that there were quite a few male Pak Yong as well during the nineteenth century. In Besut, Kelantan, we have Pak Su Kadir of the Kumpulan Mak Yong Cahaya Matahari; I had the opportunity to collaborate with him once for a performance organised by PUSAKA in Kelantan back in 2014.”

There is also the need, during performances, to speak fluent Kelantanese — a tall order for the born-and-bred Kedahan, but a challenge Rosnan readily embraced as part of the learning curve.

Rosnan is now a cultural officer for the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, and oversees the documentation of Mak Yong stories “to ensure our future generations know of them. We have a Mak Yong group under the auspices of the Ministry under the Istana Budaya. We also have another group under the National Department for Culture and Arts. But the main issue we’re dealing with is, how do we convince our youths to come and watch and get acquainted with Mak Yong? It’s very hard to get audiences to pay for tickets if there are no popular performers involved in the production. We’ve had to fall back on marketing strategies to promote Mak Yong through social media.”

In its authentic set-up, Mak Yong uses minimal props, appealing instead to the powers of the imagination. The Mak Yong at Istana Budaya, however, is performed differently: the performance has been commercialised – through the creation of a suggestive set – to attract a younger crowd.

“I’m sure my interpretation of Mak Yong will not sit well with the experts who have devoted their lives to studying the dance-theatre. But if MakYong is to be performed in its most authentic form, audiences will just up and leave – trust me on this, I speak from experience.

“For urban audiences, especially those from KL, who have never watched a Mak Yong performance before, they’ll most definitely be bored to tears. The opening itself can very easily take up up 3o minutes, and the show has barely begun yet. Do you think first-timers would want to stay to the end? We’re trying to do things a little differently by injecting some “Wow” factor into the Mak Yong performances.”

This article first appeared in Penang Monthly, Sept 2019, Issue 09.19

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