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Reviewed by:
  • The Next by Hands Percussion
  • Leng Poh Gee
The Next. Hands Percussion. Artistic director Bernard Goh. Music director Susan Sarah John. Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 8 November 2012.

Malaysia’s renowned Hands Percussion Team (Hands) never stops seeking new possibilities in performance through instrumental manipulation and movement exploration (see Hands 2000–2012). It has gone from the initial “Twenty-four Festive Drums” Chinese drum performance in schools, which launched artistic director Bernard Goh as an assistant teacher in 1990,1 through the incorporation of Malay gamelan and theatrical movement expression in Hands performances as the ensemble was developed as a professional company in 1997. It has evolved from school-based drum coaching, which sustained Goh in his early career, to nationwide Hands Balik Kampung (Return to the Village) tours (2009–2012), spearheaded by Eric Ch’ng, a graduate of the early training who became administrative director, which enable children from rural villages to experience performing arts through camps, workshops, parades, and performances. The company has gone from an amateur group in which all individuals earn their living in other occupations to a focused company that employs eight full-time performers and tours internationally. Hands has gone through fifteen years of a creative and exciting journey. The Twenty-four Festive Drums movement may have started with the idea of carving out a space for youth to participate in and celebrate Chinese cultural heritage in a Malaysian context that, due to the government’s pro-Malay cultural policy inset since 1971, has provided minimal support for Chinese pride, but the troupe has gone far beyond its beginning point to an embrace of Malay and Javanese gamelan and the eclectic elements that make contemporary Asian drumming ensembles both rhythmically mesmerizing and visually engrossing. [End Page 526] Taiko and groups like Kodo may have begun the pan-Asian movement in the 1970s and 1980s, evoking full-body responses from audiences as they watch movement and drumming fuse, as drummers leap, swirl, and thrust. Such groups let viewers see the athletic bodies of the young male and female performers in costumes that revealed as much as they covered beautiful bodies. But it took Hands to rethink this formula in a Malaysian frame, using the new and diverse resources that Southeast Asian sound-movement genres provide. In this concert we again experienced the fusion of Chinese, Malay, and Indonesian sources that make for something that is both grounded in a Southeast Asian heritage and dealing with what it is to be something that is new and a fusion of all the sources one can claim as a Malaysian.

The Next consisted of two sections separated by an intermission. Melodic Chinese flute (dizi) launched the prelude. From the audience area, two digeridoos (an indigenous Australian wind instrument) players led the twenty-seven performers of The Next as they marched to the stage. The performers lined up and knelt solemnly and sacredly, a homage to the ancestors, gurus, and alam (nature), as is exercised in traditional Malaysian performing arts forms: “Mengadap Rebab” (Saluting to the rebab [bowed lute] player/teacher) in makyung, “Taksim (opening played on a solo gambus lute in zapin, a traditional Malay dance), and “Langkah Sembah” (Saluting Dance Steps) in silat (martial arts dance). The first section, Flesh and Bone,” visibly showcased a fusion of movement and music inspired from traditional arts forms of the area, such as randai, dikir barat, saman, and Twenty-four Festive Drums practice. Varied degrees of creativity from randai performance, a folk theater tradition of the Minangkabau of Sumatra that combines music, singing, dance, drama, and silat or martial dance, were manipulated to create a new form, and gamelan was combined with drumming as needed. The costume of randai is calena gelombang (“wave” pants), unique loose-fitting pants that add surplus fabric in between the legs as webbing. This extra cloth can be stretched as the legs go into plié to make it taut and produces sharp, slapping sounds when hands smack the fabric in various ways. The pants were modified here from the plain black of regular gelombang pants to have an orange circle on the center of the surplus fabric, creating the...