Revisit Traumatic Memories in Seni Tiga #11: Dulu. Saat Itu.
Review by Wai Lu Yin

How do you feel? Do you love yourself?

Seni Tiga, a multidisciplinary collaborative project by Kongsi Petak, initially planned to perform Seni Tiga #11: Dulu. Saat Itu. (Then. That Malay), an exploration in memory, in April 2020. Due to the pandemic, they decided to postpone the performance, eventually staging it on Cloud Theatre on December 18 – 20 last year. Throughout the year, they discussed how they could present the performance virtually without losing the audience’s attention. The performance was rehearsed and pre-recorded at Kongsi KL.

Seni Tiga #11: Dulu. Saat Itu., performed by Dexter Lim and Aisha Hassan, explores the moments in our lives that we relive repeatedly. They take us through a beautiful and painful recollection of memories that resonate through the essence of time, including the past and present. The play takes the form of vignettes with unnamed characters.

Its linear storyline gradually builds suspense as I observe the characters’ darkest memories. The first scene emphasises on how we are judged by other people based on how we look. In the scene, the woman, played by Aisha, criticises the man, played by Lim, for wearing a red dress that makes him feel pretty. It highlights the importance of loving ourselves despite our struggles in displaying our vulnerabilities, and the failure to conform. It was unclear if Seni Tiga was trying to comment on sexuality, but if so, it didn't seem to be explored enough.

Consumed by darkness

The following scenes are more effective, looking into the complexities of toxic masculinity. Standing in the spotlight, the man is undressed and fistfuls of coffee grounds are thrown at him from above. The camera pans around him while the beeping and murmuring background sounds amplify a haunting aura. I feel suffocated as I watch him trying - and failing - to get rid of the coffee grounds and he ends up being drowned and consumed by darkness. This overwhelming gesture turns him into a beast. For this ‘beast man’, violence and emotional restraint reflects the apex of manliness. Lim displays a good balance of rawness and assertiveness in showing the man’s struggle with toxic masculinity.

The performance also depicts physical abuse faced by many women, which leaves them with painful scars. My emotions were triggered by a scene where the woman is violently raped by the ‘beast man’. In describing her memory, she says “something just snapped like a twig”. She points out the five steps of physical love, while the man's arms wrap around her like shadows devouring her in the darkness. The scene is done stylistically with a dim spotlight and haunting sounds which depict the woman being trapped by the man in a dark and narrow space. Despite it being Aisha’s debut, she gives a powerful performance that successfully contrasts the notions of being loved and being violated through her impactful monologue. It is a constant battle for women as they do not feel safe from violence. The woman says she is locking her feelings in a box and is holding the key, symbolising how women are withheld from safe spaces where they are able to freely express themselves. Like how the man pushes the woman off after he is done with her, these women are left in the dark.

The final scene - my favourite - shows Dexter and Aisha dancing through strings of elastic bands where they confront their memories, and each other. The elastic bands remind me of a forest of memories. Their chemistry and dance movements are raw and fluid. They bind themselves with the elastic bands and push and pull each other, conveying both a sense of confronting the past and letting it go. The classical music and subtle lighting suit the mood well as the duo portrays the memories in their complex relationship.

Dancing with strings of memories

Watching Seni Tiga #11: Dulu. Saat Itu. is a gratifying experience. You find yourself at the edge of your seat, realising that these are real traumatic moments that some people experience. Seeing the depths of these painful memories allows audiences to connect with their loved ones and experience moments that make them who they are and show how far they have come through their ups and downs. The performance reminds us to do our utmost best in loving ourselves - vulnerabilities and all - and being compassionate towards others who are struggling to feel safe and be loved.

The constraints during the pandemic allowed the production team to push themselves creatively, going beyond their comfort zone in staging the performance virtually. Focusing on the audience’s perspective in watching theatre online, every member was actively involved in the creative process.

The smooth and fluid camera work by Han Wu, haunting and melancholic sounds by Iwaz, stunning light transitions by Jackey Chan, and mesmerising set designs by Amalia Ab Aziz elevate the essence of its storytelling, with the end result being a poignant live theatre performance film. Despite the crew having fewer resources and a small budget, the virtual experience of Seni Tiga #11: Dulu. Saat Itu. was just as good as watching any of the UK's National Theatre’s recorded performances on their YouTube channel. It made me realise that it is not how a story is displayed that matters, but rather the process of making an amazing heartfelt story that makes it continue to resonate with people long after it ends.

All photos are taken by Mah Jun Yi - Courtesy of Seni Tiga 2020

The pre-recorded Seni Tiga #11: Dulu. Saat Itu. performances took place in Cloud Theatre on Dec 18 – 20 2020.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Wai Lu Yin is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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