More Than Just a Performance
One of the few skilled Butoh performers around these parts, Soonufat Supramaniam has begun to turn heads in the local performance scene with his highly corporeal, yet thought-provoking form of expressive artistry. For George Town Festival 2014, he will be performing a trilogy of pieces over two weekends centred around life and death – matters that he feels his art will help to prompt discussion on.
Hi Soon! What exactly do you do, and what are you working on now?
I am a performance artist and I strive to create site specific, thought provoking and different performance art in Penang, Malaysia. I set up a theatre group called Darkhorse Physical Theatre there. We have regular workshops on physical theatre, performance training, and Butoh dance theatre. As a passionate teaching artist myself, I coach performers, actors, dancers, and anyone who wants to explore more about theatre and performance art. Apart from that, I am also working with a few other artists in Penang in setting up a collective where we use art as a medium to inspire, challenge, and access Malaysian communities. My primary goal after returning to Malaysia was to push for arts education where I have seen such great learning occur. Worth it or not? You tell me.
Did you have an artsy upbringing?
My biological dad who passed away when I was eleven was a shaman in a Taoist-Thai temple. Do you consider that artsy? I do.
Religion is an art in its own right. What are your thoughts on the Penang performance scene?
I see a lot of groupings and to be honest, a lack of collaboration in between the performance groups. To be truly inspiring, I think a lot more effort is needed in integrating different performance groups in Penang into a tight, cooperative alliance. Only then, the performance scene in Penang can move further and at a faster pace.
How did you get into theatre and performance art, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I am still not sure that this is performance art. It’s about interpreting performance in another way. I don’t like to perform just for entertainment. Performance for me is something more sacred. It’s about immediate connection between the performer and the audience – breaking down the barrier of audience sitting and the performer performing. My first performance in Canberra, Australia was a fine example. The audience in the show was allowed to stand up and politely interact with the audience at a close distance. Some members of the audience were surprised by the immediate and intimate interaction with the performer. It’s not about only the performer, nor is it about simply satisfying the audience. It’s two-way.
We are uninitiated as to what Nine Deaths of One Life is about. What’s your piece during GTF going to be like?
Nine Deaths of One Life for George Town Festival 2014 is going to be about life and death. It is a site-specific production in a burnt down shop house that explores the transformational qualities of rituals and showcases the desire to survive through the body. I think that the topic of “how we want to die” represents the most important and costly conversation that our world is not having. There is no ‘best’ time to talk and share about death. How would you want your death to be staged? Through this piece, I celebrate death as something inevitable and accept it with an open heart. We are showing three different perspectives in life and death through three choreographers’ points of view; the first, about the Hungry Ghost Food Festival with Kent Tan; the ways in preparing for death with Ernest; and as well as through messages in communicating with the dead with Kenneth.
9413: Nine Deaths One Life
Date 8 – 9 August ‘14 and 14 – 15 August ‘14
Venue 139, Lebuh Pantai, George Town
Cover RM20 – RM30
George Town Festival 2014 is happening throughout this month. Details about shows and ticketing are available at www.georgetownfestival.com.