The Weight of A Dance Production – In The Making of ‘Pengabdian Batin’
By Nur Zakirah Binte Rosman (2023)
On behalf of NUS Ilsa Tari EXCO 2022/2023
3 weeks before the staging of ‘Pengabdian Batin’, the NUS Ilsa Tari EXCO brought us through the intentions and hopes of the dance production.
As an NUS Ilsa Tari executive (EXCO) member, I enjoyed the collaborative processes behind staging a Malay dance production. Through collaborating within the EXCO; and with our Artistic Director Cikgu Osman Abdul Hamid, the dancers and other stakeholders, I realised the weight of our production. It is important to research and plan the different segments of the production carefully, in order to articulate the different intended messages of the production. On behalf of the EXCO, we are honoured to have had the opportunity to share about ‘Pengabdian Batin’, and our process in creating the dance production in the GERAK Symposium.
Intimate Partner Violence is defined by the World Health Organization (2012) as:
“Any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship.” 1
For the production, we have chosen to explore the theme of intimate partner violence (IPV) among the Malay-Muslim community, in particular focusing on heterosexual marriage structures in the Malay-Muslim community. By narrowing the scope of the production, it allows us to focus on a specific target audience/group, and provide depth in the intended messages of the production.
Choosing an uncomfortable topic
Together, as EXCO we ultimately decided on exploring the theme of IPV due to the shared experiences that we have. This is also an experience shared by Cikgu Osman. Most of us have encounters or have close connections with victim(s) of IPV. Additionally, all of us in the EXCO are students from the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
We feel that it would be good to also raise societal awareness through highlighting the structural and social factors surrounding IPV. Since IPV is a prevalent and existing societal issue, it also reinforced our desire to provide room for discussion towards this important issue.
Our production, titled ‘Pengabdian Batin’, was staged as a part of the NUS Arts Festival (NAF) 2023 that carries the theme of “Spaces Between”. Spaces Between examines the idea of liminal spaces, the uncomfortable unknown as we transition between phases, and states. Hence, similar to how liminal spaces tend to be disliked or avoided by many due to the discomfort and ambiguity it brings, discourse surrounding IPV within the Malay-Muslim society may be limited as a result of the stigma attached to it. However, just as liminal spaces also present us with opportunities for growth and positive change, individuals involved in IPV can also attain such progress should they receive the necessary support and assistance.
The “Inner Enslavement”
“Pengabdian Batin” is Malay for inner enslavement. With this name, we aim to deconstruct the stigma surrounding IPV amongst the Malay/Muslim community. Through sound and movement, they also hope to illuminate dark spaces and offer comfort to those hidden and silenced.
We chose to name it in Malay because it provides an essence which will not be captured fully in the English language.
“Batin” refers to the inner, spiritual dimension. In relation to IPV, exploring the batin relates to the inner sense of self among the victims of IPV. This also refers to how their batin may be enslaved by exogenous or endogenous influence. These internal and external factors may be shaped by pressures from the societal level or influences by close families and friends.
Adding on, “Abdi” as a word by itself refers to servant or slave. By deliberately adding “Peng-” as a prefix to “Abdi”, it allows the formation of the word “Pengabdian” to carry multiple meanings such as the process of being enslaved or the continual enslavement of oneself. This will also provide room for the audience to interpret not just the title, but also the dance production in various ways.
Research & The Creative Process
We have done various research to better understand the topic of IPV. One of them is Tabrani’s thesis2 titled “Malay Female Survivors’ Agency in Intimate Partner Violence”. This thesis provides various forms of information pertaining to IPV victims / survivors. With reference to the thesis, we summarised the IPV victim’s reasons for staying as well as their responses to abuse, in the table below:
|Reasons for staying||Responses to Abuse|
|Negative labelling of divorce||Direction confrontations through personal means|
|Ideology of the “Ideal” family||Direct confrontations with help from others|
|Weak social support||–|
|Gaps in law enforcement||–|
I feel that through this thesis, we started to get a nuanced understanding of the various situations that might be involved in an IPV case.
In wanting to know more, Ilsa Tari also had a chance to talk to Ms Siti, a social worker at Babes and listen to her experiences with IPV victims. Babes is a non-profit agency that journeys with pregnant teenagers by providing them emotional support, information, and resources to empower them to make responsible decisions on their pregnancy.
The insight was very valuable in exposing us with the actual experiences of IPV victims / survivors. I feel that this enhances Ilsa Tari dancers’ awareness of the various emotions and turmoil that these IPV victims / survivors went through. We acknowledge our position as individuals who do not have first-hand experience with regards to IPV. Hence, this session allows us to be more empathetic in our expression as we deliver such emotions through our choreography.
In relation to the choreography process of the dance production, Cikgu Osman first introduces a set of steps to the Ilsa Tari members. We had instances where we had to explore those steps using our body. We were also given plenty of space, time and freedom in determining the ways of portraying a certain emotion while dancing.
Based on the understanding we gained through the research and the exploration, together with Cikgu Osman, we structured the production into 4 parts.
- Perantaraan (Intermediary):
In exploring the bond/connection between partners in a marriage
- Penakatan (Survival):
Delving into what helps a victim cope with their situation
- Islah (Reform):
Portrays of how the abused desire to shift the relationship
- Titian (Bridge):
The change in dynamics between the abused and the abuser; and the people around them who contribute to this shift
Through these 4 segments, we wish to portray a sense of hope in achieving change not only for the abused, but the abuser as well. While the production can be interpreted in various ways, it can be noted how Ilsa Tari attempts to provide a hopeful tone towards IPV. Moreover, in a quest to achieve positive change among victims of IPV and the abuser, it can also provide the audience with a realisation towards the importance of their help in aiding these individuals.
Symbolism in the Visual Communication
We carried the theme and our ideas into our visual communication materials. Our main concept focuses on the notion of healing, from physical or emotional pain, as well as the idea of suffering in silence.
To communicate these ideas, Qistina, our publicity officer, used bandages alongside flowers to cover the faces and/or body of the dancers to signify healing, recovering, growth, while representing evidence of injuries or wounds. Flowers on the other hand were utilised to signify hope among victims of IPV. The choice of having both male and female models for these visual materials was also deliberate. This was done to showcase how anyone can be a victim of IPV regardless of gender. That being said, it also provides room for various kinds of interpretation should an individual view it.
Malay Dance as a platform to raise awareness
Through the research and collaborative process behind ‘Pengabdian Batin’, it occured to me how the process of documentation is truly important. This is because while the GERAK Symposium may have been over, it does not mean that discourse surrounding IPV stops here. By documenting the symposium and including the topics discussed in relation to IPV, it can enable readers to engage in a different lens when looking at the theme of IPV.
Moreover, given its lack of discussion within the Malay community, such a documentation can also enhance the knowledge of readers towards this issue. Through this sharing, and our emphasis on providing room for the audience to interpret our production through various ways, we enable readers to realise that their thoughts or perception towards a Malay dance work can be fluid.
Ilsa Tari utilises Malay dance as a platform to raise awareness pertaining to IPV, as a societal issue. This then emphasises how dance is a form of expression and is a useful tool in surfacing various themes from the micro all the way to the macro level.
- World Health Organization & Pan American Health Organization. (2012). Understanding and addressing violence against women: Intimate partner violence. World Health Organization. Retrieved from apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/77432
- Nurshirah Tabrani (2019-04-24). Constraints, Confrontations, Choices: Malay Female Survivors’ Agency In Intimate Partner Violence. Scholarbank@NUS Repository.