Modern and traditional – can the two ever mix? Dance pioneer Datuk Ramli Ibrahim chooses to believe they can.

Ramli, the artistic director of Sutra Foundation and curator of dance for the Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival (KLIAF) 2015, reckons that there is an “underlying fallacy in the idea of modernity” that tradition is actually the “antithesis to the modern”.

“However, this is not necessarily true with all Asian societies as modern ideas permeate through contemporary traditional values, which constantly undergo change,” says Ramli.

As the curator of next month’s KLIAF dance programme, Ramli has chosen this very premise as the thematic thrust.

The first of its kind in Kuala Lumpur, the month-long KLIAF is a celebration of dance, tradition, music, comedy and literature.

Themed “Rediscovering Our Heritage”, the festival will showcase creative diversity from Malaysia and countries like Thailand, India, Japan and South Korea.

Also known as Diversecity 2015, the KLIAF will use 20 venues in the city for its showcase, with Istana Budaya and Auditorium DBKL being the official venues for the dance performances.

Ramli says he wants to “encourage the creation of a body of original Malaysian dance-theatre works”.

“We are not averse to having global and international points of embarkation, but our own indigenous potential should not be disregarded,” he adds.

Rathimalar Govindarajoo (left) and January Low, choreographers and performers in Return. Photo: S. Magen

Classical Indian dancers, Rathimalar Govindarajoo (left) and January Low, perform in Return. Photo: S. Magenz

Ramli’s impressive line-up for the festival will see 12 world premieres by various dance companies and choreographers, including one from Taiwan and Chennai.

The homegrown dance companies who will be presenting their works are Aswara, Dua Space Dance Theatre, Temple of Fine Arts, Alamak Entertainment, Sutra Foundation, MyDance Alliance and Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI). Joining them will be GuoGuang Opera Company from Taiwan and Aseema Trust from Chennai, India.

Individual artists will also be presenting their works in special signature programmes.

Ramli wants them to “link the diverse genres of dance-theatre”. They include bharatanatyam dancer Hema Nandhini, pianist Kimball Gllagher, soprano Chaing YiLing and contemporary dance theatre practitioners Sangeeta Isvaran and Suresh Kaliyath.

If the performances aren’t enough to greet you with a packed programme, there will also be two art exhibitions to complement the festival.

I Am From Ganjam, So Are The Images by Dr Dinanath Pathy will feature paintings and drawings inspired by the rich culture and myths of Ganjam, a district in India and the artist’s birthplace. This exhibition will take place at Istana Budaya’s Panggung Sari lobby from Sept 19 to Oct 4.

The other exhibition, RESTU – Guardian Spirits at Auditorium DBKL’s foyer, is a collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures by a group of Malaysian and international artists that pays tribute to the late Pak Mie, the well-known animal rescuer. Curated by Dinanath and Sivarajah Natarajan, the exhibition also doubles as a fund-raising effort for Restu, Pak Mie’s animal shelter in Alor Star, Kedah. The exhibition will be on from Sept 3 to Oct 4.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the festival’s elaborate content. Here’s a list of some of the performances to help you get started.

Tepak Tari by MyDance Alliance (Sept 3-5).

Tepak Tari by MyDance Alliance is a collection of short works by well-known Malaysian dance companies.

Tepak Tari

Tepak Tari, presented by MyDance Alliance, brings together short works by 12 choreographers from well-known Malaysian dance companies, including Sutra Dance Theatre, Aswara Dance Company, Kwang Tung Dance Company, Damansara Performing Arts Centre Dance Company, Lee Wushu Arts Theatre, Temple of Fine Arts and Sultan Idris Education University.

“Like the traditional welcoming betel nut box or tepak sireh, Tepak Tari, is a box of dancing variety which results in an intoxicating experience,” says Bilqis Hijjas, Tepak Tari’s producer/curator.

Each performance in Tepak Tari features six short dance premiers, most of which have been created especially for this programme.

Tepak Tari will present collaborative works by dancer/choreographer Suhaili Micheline and (Aswara lecturer) Failul Adam, classical Indian dance performers Rathimalar Govindarajoo and January Low while guest choreographers Mikuni Yanaihara (Japan) and Gerard Mosterd (Netherlands) will add international flavour.

A new work Dikir by Raziman Sarbini – one of Malaysia’s new talents – will also be featured. Wong Kit Yaw, a respected artist in the Chinese dance community with a long track record of developing creative dance for children, brings the award-winning dance troupe from Yu Hua Secondary School to the professional stage.

Date: Sept 3-5. Time: 8.30pm & additional 3pm show on Sept 5. Venue: Auditorium DBKL. Tickets: RM55 and RM35 (early bird). Regular: RM60 and RM40.

2 Siriyama ... Siri by Aseema Trust. Spet 8-11, 8.30pm, Auditorium DBKL. Photo: EVENT ORGANISER

Siriyama … Siri by Aseema Trust weaves together a tapestry of different South Indian folk forms.

The Path Of Discovery

New York-based pianist Kimball Gallagher and Taiwanese pianist Kai-Yin Huang will join forces with Malaysian soprano Yiling Chaing in this one-day only music dance theatre that will include genres and acts spanning music, dance improvisations and operatic renditions representing diverse cultures.

Date: Sept 6. Time: 8.30pm. Venue: Auditorium DBKL. Tickets: RM55 and RM35 (early bird). Regular: RM60 and RM40.

Siriyama … Siri

Siriyama Siri (Laugh, Goddess, Laugh) is presented by Chennai’s Aseema Trust. Bringing together artists from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, this production weaves a tapestry of different South Indian folk forms which include the ceremonial masked dance Padayani, known for its craft and imagery, Koothu, Poikkal Kudirai, Silambam and Karagam and Otthanthullal. Siriyama Siri sets our to prove that traditional and indigenous dance forms are alive and well in contemporary dance-music theatre.

Date: Sept 8-11. Time: 8.30pm. Venue: Auditorium DBKL. Tickets: RM55 and RM35 (early bird). Regular: RM60 and RM40.


This solo bharatanatyam performance by Hema Nandhini is one of the few purely traditional performance in the festival. It alludes to the deepest emotions of love and devotion and these in turn are expressed in dance in hues of “rasa” (aesthetics) to reach a heightened state of expression.

Date: Sept 13. Time: 7.30pm. Venue: Auditorium DBKL. Tickets: RM55 & RM35 (early bird). Regular: RM60 and RM40.


As the title suggests, NeoMargam explores the traditional bharatanatyam margam or repertoire from a modern angle.

Choreographed by Shankar Kandasamy from the Temple of Fine Arts, this performances promises to be a spiritual journey of sorts. NeoMargam sets out to see if the spiritual content of an ancient art form can still be retained without losing its intrinsic and elemental features.

Date: Sept 18-20. Time: 8.30pm. Venue: Auditorium DBKL. Tickets: RM55 and RM35 (early bird). Regular: RM60 and RM40.

Ganjam by Sutra Foundation.

Ganjam by Sutra Foundation.


Commissioned by Sutra Foundation, with Dr Dinanath Pathy as consultant, this production will see new dance compositions by Guru Gajendra Panda.

The duo will conceive new repertoires inspired by the folk dances and musical compositions from the Ganjam district in southern Odisha, India. The district is one that is steeped in culture and tradition. To make the performance more authentic, the Sutra dancers will be accompanied by musicians from Odisha.

Date: Sept 23, 25-27. Time: 8.30pm. Venue: Panggung Sari, Istana Budaya. Tickets: RM55 and RM35 (early bird). Regular: RM60 and RM40.

Young Curtain

This is another instance where the modern and the traditional amalgamate. Presented by Taiwan’s GuoGuang Opera Company, Young Curtain combines the traditional form of Beijing Opera and the techniques of modern drama. Loosely based on Faust, this contemporary opera theatre follows a young woman who accepts the potion of Everlasting Youth from a mysterious man she encounters. It is a tale about fleeting youth and the lengths one would go to to hold on to it.

Date: Sept 25-27. Time: 8.30pm & additional 3pm show on Sept 27. Venue: Auditorium DBKL. Tickets: RM70 and RM50 (early bird). Regular: RM80 and RM60.

The Tree

This contemporary dance performance, presented by Dua Space Dance Theatre and choreographed by Anthony Meh and Aman Yap, promises to be a vibrant and electrifying piece. The costumes themselves are stunning. Serving as a metaphor for the abundance of nature and culture in Malaysia, The Tree will feature movements and elements which the choreographers have extracted from local traditions, restructuring them through a contemporary approach.

Date: Oct 1-4. Time: 8.30pm. Venue: Panggung Sari, Istana Budaya. Tickets: RM55 and RM35 (early bird). Regular: RM60 and RM40.

The Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival takes place from Sept 1 to Oct 4 at various locations in Kuala Lumpur. For more information, visit or, or call 03-7610-0682.