Traditional Performances in Malaysia


Mak Yong

Mak Yong is a traditional form of dance-drama from northern Malaysia, particularly the state of Kelantan. In 2005, UNESCO declared mak Yong a “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. Mak Yong is considered the most authentic and representative of Malay performing arts because it is mostly untouched by external sources. Although most traditional Malay dances were influenced by India, Java and other parts of Southeast Asia, Mak Yong’s singing and musical repertoire are unique. Of the major stories performed in Mak Yong, most are derived from Kelantan-Pattani mythology. Some of those obtained from outside the Malayan-Thai region have now died out elsewhere such as Anak Raja Gondang, a story originally from the Jataka tales but now almost unknown in India.

Chinese Fan Dance

The Chinese fan dance plays a few different roles in China. First, it is used to help pass down stories and traditions of Chinese culture. Both tourists and younger Chinese generations learn classic tales and lore of China’s past through the fan dance. This is why you can often see fan dancers at festivals, theatre performances, and other exhibition-style events where the performers are able to promote their rich roots in history. Fan dancing also serves as entertainment. Fans are used as props, complimenting brightly-coloured costumes for an eye-catching spectacle of movement. Finally, Chinese fan dancing serves as exercise, as well as an exercise in discipline for its participants. Like many other forms of dance, the choreography that comes along with fan dancing requires physical fitness and the ability to memorize routines. Being responsible enough to attend regular rehearsals and performances is another form of personal discipline. This can be a way for young Chinese dancers to enrich their bodies and minds with an activity that means something to them both personally and culturally.

Barathananyam Dance

Bharatanaṭyam is a major form of Indian classical dance that originated in the state of Tamil Nadu. Bharatanatyam style is noted for its fixed upper torso, legs bent or knees flexed ( Aramandi ) out combined with spectacular footwork, a sophisticated vocabulary of sign language based on gestures of hands, eyes and face muscles. The dance is accompanied by music and a singer, and typically her guru is present as the Nattuvanar, director and conductor of the performance and art. The dance has traditionally been a form of an interpretive narration of mythical legends and spiritual ideas from the Hindu texts. The performance repertoire of Bharatanatyam, like other classical dances, includes nrita (pure dance), nritya (solo expressive dance) and natya (group dramatic dance).

Sumazau Dance

Sumazau is a traditional folk dance that is popular in Sabah and throughout Malaysia. It is a traditional dance of the Kadazan Dusun. It is often performed during the harvest festival celebration every May. Sumazau is danced by farmers, both male and female, who are wearing traditional dress, in black and red. It is played to the accompaniment of eagles; usually six gongs of various sizes, and a drum with a unique rhythm. The duration and rhythm of Sumazau vary by region and country. This is a dance inspired by eagles flying patterns witnessed by farmers resting in the fields during the harvest season. During the dance, each dancer must make a sequence of moves only a few centimetres away from each other without touching. Dance rituals such as Sumazau is performed at a variety of functions. The harvest and thanksgiving, as a song showing resistance to oppression, to pacify and honour local deities, and treat diseases.

Ngajat Dance

The ‘Ngajat’ dance originated from the Iban community and has been passed down from generation to generation. The origin of this indigenous Iban dance is not clearly known but it is believed to have been in existence along with the Iban tribe since the 16th Century. The Ngajat dance is believed to have been performed by warriors on their return from battles. This dance is now performed to celebrate the most important harvest festival, Gawai Dayak, to welcome important guests to the longhouses and so on. When performing the dance, the male dancers wear a headgear made from the tail feathers of the hornbill (though nowadays most likely artificial feather may be used, to save the birds). He holds a long sword in one hand and an ornately decorated shield in the other. Around his chest are necklaces made of beads and cowrie shells, and he wore a ceremonial cawat, or loincloth.



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