When the Ghosts ‘Rusod’ stole the show @ Sabah International Folklore Festival (SIFF) 2016

Written by @curiostraveller and edited by @joehairie
(Video by @joehairie. Photos by @soffriezanyahya & SIFF)

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When the audience were pretty ‘occupied’ with the amazing performances by 11 teams from all over the world and when they were just about to ‘debate’ among themselves about the possible winner in the 2016 Sabah International Folklore Festival, the ‘rusod’ or the ‘ghosts’ took over the stage and surprised the audience with their sudden scary ghostly appearance. They indeed stole the show. The Ghosts were just everywhere (that includes the little cunning, slimy green ‘kids’), even off the stage that made some people screamed, excited and then laughed for being presented such humor that was infused in the performance. The ‘Rusod’ performed way beyond audience’s expectation. It ain’t one ordinary performance, it is a masterpiece that linked the past and the present, generally showcasing the belief and mystical world of the unseen and the power to defeat evil. The theatrical and contemporary dance had one main objective though, to entertain the audience.

The elements and our thoughts

Disclaimer

We have no intention to brought up any belief or religious issues. We are on the same boat as the choreographer himself, Mr Mohd Soffriezan bin Yahya. We all regard this particular performance merely for entertainment. Whether you believe or not, in such superstition or the existence of the ‘unseen’, it will be up to you and shall not be debated here. How you interpret the dance performance is entirely up to you and we do not want to elaborate on such thoughts. Our intention is to highlight the elements in the dance performance, appreciating the artistic values and highlighting such tremendous effort by the choreographer and his amazing team.

About the ‘Rusod’

According to the Choreographer hand-out, Sabahan believes that spiritual entities does exist in this world. This creatures are named as Rusod in native language. Rusod means spirits and literally regard as ghosts, free unwanted spirits and demons. The ‘Rusod’ performance meant to showcase the mysterious of underworld that can’t be seen by normal eyes. There are different names for Rusod such as Tompulalangoi (Hantu Galah), Kongkuang (Hantu Bunian), Timpunus (Penanggal) and Ulok-Ulok (Hantu Burung). The performance highlighted some of well known ‘Rusods’ in Sabah to create lively effects thus making it somehow ‘real’ in the eyes of spectators. The ‘Rusod’ dance was choreographed merely for entertainment.

The Performance (Video)

Due to heavy load of videos content in this blog, we are left with no choice other than only to provide the link to the video that we recorded during Sabah International Folklore Festival 2016. It’s available in @curiostraveller Facebook and here is the link. (Click it and you will be directed to the video in Facebook).

https://www.facebook.com/thecurios.traveller/videos/221889298212547/

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The artistic value & The elements  (A Critic)

It is said that dance can be described as immaterial as a whole but temporarily embodied and therefore potentially tangible in some respects. Dance artistic value is mostly dependent on mastery of technique and style, and formal choreographic accomplishment which can be only grasped in the development of the performance. Some elements of the dance medium such as the setting or the costumes add to the overall value of the piece at an aesthetic level as well. Artistic value is also connected to other properties of the work, such as its historical, political and moral qualities. Did the ‘Rusod’ performance had that artistic value during the staging on July 30, 2016?

The ‘Rusod’ actually present specific powerful emotional challenges to the audience, including the critics such as both of us. It had so many elements in one go. Audience had to digest the message and at the same time having good time, laughing, giggling and even screamed, scared of the sudden ghosts appearance. ‘Rusod’ presented to audience in theatrical style, combining dance and live acting as well as impromptu movements on stage. The ‘ghosts’ apparently knew their supposed positions, moving here and there, even off stage. All these, followed by some rigid and of course synchronized dance by the the ‘ghosts’ themselves’.

The ‘Rusod’ had all the artistic value of balance, center of interest and composition. Balanced in the sense that the production team managed to ‘unite’ the sound, lighting, costume, story line, on and off stage movements as well rhythm, rigid and precise movements by dancers. It all became one. Successfully implemented. There were 2 center of interest, on and off stage. Audience had to focus on these 2 areas. The ‘Rusod’ cleverly designed as one performance that used all possible space. Visual and sound effect were looked into in details by the Choreographer and his production team. Scary sounds of crying lady definitely a simple but effective technique in relaying the message to the audience. It told the audience that it had something to do with the unseen.

The fragrant smell that came from joss stick suggested that the unseen were there in the hall. It kind of someone was offering a prayer or something to the dead people. It therefore not only about visual or sound but sense of smell too! Brilliant! When it’s dawn already as suggested by the sound of the ‘chickens’, the ‘ghosts’ ran away panicking. The use of simple but effective up to date technology enabled the ‘2 ghosts’ to wander around. The sound effect was truly amazing throughout the entire performance. There were just to many things that being in the thoughts of that talented Choreographer. While he had to ensure that the artistic value kept intact in within the performance, he included the elements of humor, suspense, drama, thrill, lesson, art, contemporary dance, ritual and belief.

This ‘Rusod’ performance was way different than the other side shows and even the performances by the participants in the dance competition. It was not about the same type of cultural performance, a favorite theme among local choreographers. At times we do get bored in seeing traditional dances being turn into something fusion. If it’s traditional, let it be, don’t turn it into some hideous dance that ran away from its traditional elements. ‘Rusod’ was radical in presenting ideas. Something that is way out of norm. It’s not a fusion dance that came from a traditional dance. It’s more to cleverly use all the belief and superstition in regard to the unseen, maximizing the information, turning it into one piece of theatrical performance.

On another personal thought, we prefer to see (for example) the staging of Huminodun being sacrificed but at the same time include the Kadazan Dusun dance in it. Show us a piece of art that has a story line that is much associated to our daily lives. It’s time to change the worldview and paradigm. Don’t keep showing us the rigid and fusion Mangunatip. It ain’t so real already. Infuse some thoughts and message as well a good story line in it. If you must do the bamboo dance, tell us why it has to be done, simply put-a story line. Put some humor in it. We attended the Gulu-Gulu not long ago, that’s definitely a masterpiece, it had everything in that one go performance. It’s not about that rigid cultural dance. It’s more than that.

It’s the same for ‘Rusod’. The ‘Rusod’ is one great example. It’s different, way much better. It had a story line and all the artistic value. It presented new ideas in staging techniques but still had a story line intact in it. It made the audience concentrate on the performance.  There was no time for yawning or talking during that ‘Rusod’ play. It kept audience busy, concentrating. Audience had good time. So, was the ‘Rusod’ a good performance? NO. It’s a GREAT performance. It’ so great that it made us wrote an article out of it, a pretty long one, more than 3000 words. It’s precision that counts, being precise in all the said elements and artistic value being heavily discussed in this article.

Art & Modern Dance or is it Contemporary?

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It is definitely a Contemporary Dance. Much has been debated about the definition between Modern and Contemporary Dance. Patrick Corbin, the Artistic Director for CorbinDance in New York City described that contemporary movement is whatever is influencing art, architecture and how people process, read and later develop movement at any given time. It come in after establishing a style or a technique. Ray Leeper , a director for NUVO Dance Convention, defined contemporary as anything that is current. It’s more of a style but rooted in technique, because it’s a fusion of several techniques-ballet, jazz and modern. What say you?

It’s simple. For us, if one choreographer showcase break-dancing, that’s modern dance. It is something not so traditional, not an inch nearer. It is said that Modern dance is often considered to have emerged as a rejection of, or rebellion against classical ballet. So, classical ballet is something more traditional, same as we Malaysians regard Zapin or even Sumazau. If you twist the Sumazau into something Jazzy for example, that will lead to fusion dance and then it become contemporary, that is if the choreographer infuse current ‘things’  . For the ‘Rusod’, allow us to apply a new term. That is, the ‘Elevated Contemporary Dance’. We both saw how much things were being elevated in that ‘Rusod’. The past and the present, put together with combination of humor, suspense, art, modern dance, belief, tradition and superstition, to achieve one big result, entertaining the audience.

We are more than happy to categorize Mohd Soffriezan bin Yahya creation into a piece of ‘creative dance‘ and an ‘elevated contemporary dance‘ that is almost close to the thoughts of those who have reached  the ‘Shangrila‘, a point where they get to creatively meditating, producing great thinking and creations. Indeed he elevated all elements and dancers into one platform, merging as the best side performance actually and even almost beating the rigid, synchronized, religious and disciplined moves by the top 3 winners in the SIFF, at least for both of us.

The Choreographer

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At 33 years of age this year, Mr Mohd Soffriezan bin Yahya is the person in charge of creating and choreographing the ‘Rusod’ performance. He’s from Keningau and a Bruneian by race. He started as a dancer for Artis Budaya in 2002 and since  moved on to a higher level, obtaining some professional qualifications and certificates in order to had greater perspective in the art industry (creative art and dance). He was nominated 7 times as the Best Choreographer in prestigious events such as Festival Tari Borneo, Festival Tari Makum and Creative Dance Competition. He thinks differently in comparison with the other choreographers as he always want to bring new things, infusing new thoughts in his dance creations.

Being a creator for mostly Contemporary type of dances, he infuses local thoughts into his creations. The ‘Rusod’ was one example. Of all 10 entries in the 10 Heroes 2016 program, his creation was selected by Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun, The Honourable Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah, Malaysia to be showcased in the Sabah International Folklore Festival 2016 (as a side performance during the break). His creation must had something unusual elements in it that made Datuk Seri to chose him. The 10 Heroes program was stage on May 13 and 14 at the JKKN Sabah Auditorium.

Among the objectives of the program was to give a chance to choreographers to show creativity and imagination and exhibit high quality artistic dance that gives a chance to the public to enjoy international standard art form. The program aimed to bring the standard of choreographers to a higher level and play a role as the battleground for art lovers. 10 HEROES exhibits the art and works of 10 of the best choreographers that will enthrall those that come to view the programme. They are Tang Sook Kuan, Achai Pratama, Ray Rezuan, Azizan Daniel, Dwi Kristiyanto, Yusuf Ali, Cristopher Liew, Sarip Zainal, Soffriezan Yahya and Achap Kitta Move (Daily Express, May 13, 2016-LINK). 

Here is a link to a video in YouTube. It’s a full video showing the presentation of ‘Rusod’ performance at the 10 Heroes Program in May 2016. (Video Credit: Firdaus Johari). This was the program where Mohd Soffriezan bin Yahya started his ‘journey’ together with the ‘Rusod’ team and moved forward to a greater level, staging the performance at the Sabah International Folklore Festival 2016. Click the link below..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vXX6SjE-Ms

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The Dancers and Production Team

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Altogether, there were about 42 people involved in this ‘Rusod’ performance. 27 of them were the dancers while the rest being in the production line. Both sides showed determination in producing the dance. Being equally important and had the same weight of contribution, we listed their names here, appreciating their time and effort in giving the best to the audience during Sabah International Folklore Festival 2016. If we missed out any names, please contact us and we will add a.s.a.p.

Creator and Choreographer

Mohd Soffriezan bin Yahya

The Rusod Dancers

01-Jennita Tampui

02-Gladys Kay Yurus

03-Nur Syafiqqah binti Yahya

04-Aeraforenika Rauli

05-Allyfiani Ajub

06-Mary Anne Wong Tze Yee

07-Ellisca De Cynthia Dominic

08-Ahmin Amisani

09-Raimie Pius

10-Aejexrelson Rauli

11-Haffizullan Jinik

12-Kelvin Kaflee

13-Hebry Donny

14-Sharif Nazrin bin Baharun

15-Coresy bin Samiar

Kiawayan Dance Club

01-Viona Francis

02-Alfirah Prizila Alfonsus

03-Stephine Fredrick

04-Aravella Gers Hilaryry

05-Aerlinda Aloysius

06-Madina Felix

07-Sylverino Vitalis

08-Jacklon Aroll Benard

09-Chester Philip

10-Given William

11-Khairul Suhaili bin Rusmari

12-Nick Audrey Wildandy

Costume

01-Junipah binti Dubis @ Lubis

02-Suzan Sicham

03-Fredaus Johari

Production Crew

01-Mohd Hanif bin Mohd Abidin

02-Alexsius Albert Jab

03-Ak. Asyraf Ag. Matusin

04-Barry Vinson

05-Mohd Azwan bin Alfian

06-Mohd Harris Farman

07-Zulkifli B Amza

Music & Visual

01-Honey bin Epin

02-Mohd Nazrin Shah bin Nasip

Makeup

01-Zuzela Muhammad

Ustaz-Zul

Our Hope and appreciation

It’s rare that professional bloggers cum writers like us will write an in depth thoughts about certain individual and his or her masterpiece. It takes tremendous effort to prove that such  ‘art work’ deserves a lengthy coverage. At times, such masterpiece found by chance and we ‘found’ this amazing ‘piece of art’ during the Sabah International Folklore Festival 2016.  It took us some time to produce this particular entry that needed some research before writing up the entire thing. It seemed that all people were working pretty hard including us! As professional writers, we tend to write things that will give us some benefits, economically speaking. This one is different. We just felt the need to write up about this performance as we regard it as the best dance performance we have ever seen so far!

We were in ‘a far far away land’ years ago when by chance we were invited to witness the launch of an impromptu staging, done on a flat roof of a small house. The spectators had to sit down on the grass, on earth level so to say and had to look up to see the performance. So there were like 10 or more dancers doing their ‘arts’, running here and there, naked and dancing. We were like sitting and tried our very best to react. We failed. We failed to see the humor side, or perhaps the artistic value in the performance, all that we can see were some naked dancers. They were interpreting ‘the world karma’ or something like that. We both had the chance to became a spectator as well in various ‘live drama’ staging in Kuala Lumpur, most of them were a bit rigid, if its humor then its laughable but nothing learnt from it. If its too serious, it made us think for few days trying to connect the content to the current situation.

‘Rusod’ gave us all the elements needed. The elements needed by spectators. It’s not too serious and not that humor so to say. It’s in between. Most importantly, it’s about what Sabahan always think of, though not necessarily believing it. It reminds me of my childhood where the elders kept me in the ‘dark’ about such existence of the unseen. It made me and my friends scared. Yes. I still remember that and up to now people are still talking about the unseen. In my ‘kampong’ (village), when someone is pregnant, the elders still trying their very best to put limes here and there. It’s a belief and we still practicing it for an unknown reason. This ‘Rusod’ performance combined all the elements, suspense, drama, thrill, humor, lesson, art, contemporary dance, ritual, belief, superstition and it lead spectators to one word ‘entertainment’.

That is how we still think of this ‘Rusod’. It keeps playing in both our minds. It’s somehow leave some ‘footprints’ in our thoughts. When we were invited to a performance, we will simply forget about that in 1-2 days. This one will stick like forever. That much, the impact is, to both us. It made us wanted to write up about the performance, in lengthy post, not just mentioning the basics. We are known to write things in details and thus we dedicate our thoughts to the Choreographer, Mr Mohd Soffriezan bin Yahya and his amazing team, Jabatan Kebudayaan Negeri Sabah, Wisma Budaya and even Datuk Seri Panglima Masidi Manjun. Without them, we will never get to see the ‘Rusod’ performance.

We hope to see more masterpiece(s) from other local choreographers, being staged for the world to see. Apart from Mr Mohd Soffriezan bin Yahya, we kind of want to see some ‘art work’ by talented local choreographers such as Yusuf Haji Ali, Sharip Zainal, Christopher Liew, Tang Sook Kuan, Ray Redzuan, Dwi Kristiyanto, Achaii Pratama, Azizan Daniel and Achap Lee. We missed the staging of ’10 Heroes’in May 2016 as we were not in Kota Kinabalu. We were aware of that performances. Perhaps there will be more staging. Fingers crossed. Our biggest hope is that the prestigious Sabah Folklore International Festival being organized each year and include some performances from the local choreographers instead of too much singing. Its not that the singers are not great, they still are, however allowing more slots for creative performances is much way better as it somehow highlights the ‘Sabahans way of life‘.

Last but not least, Mr Mohd Soffriezan bin Yahya, your piece of ‘art’ was done in the most appropriate thoughts and methods/techniques. You are getting there, to be able to reach the ‘Shangrila‘ where people get to creatively meditating with such an enormous result. We both believe in your talent and we do hope that you keep infusing new thoughts into your dance creation, involve as many youngsters as you can. Teach them how to become you. We need more talented choreographers in the future, to come out and showcasing their work, for the world to see and somehow indirectly promoting Sabah as one of the best tourist destination in Malaysia.

The ‘Rusod’ finally agreed to be included in the wefie. You better co operate Mr Rusod or you won’t have earthly ‘task’ in the near future! 
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