Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Man Behind Sri Budaya Bintulu

>>>Quick chat with Tuah Jili

FEW people in Bintulu know that Sri Budaya Bin-tulu has been around for almost 10 years.

The dance troupe, previously known as Sri Wawa-san Bintulu, was set up in the Division in 1998 and had its name changed a year later.

Managed by the Social Development and Urbanis-ation Ministry office (Bintulu branch), the troupe stages cultural performances at official functions and hotel receptions and has even represented Sa-rawak in cultural dance competitions.

Comprising mostly the younger generation, and even though its members keep changing every year, Sri Budaya Bintulu is still strongly committed to preserving local cultures through dances.

After almost a decade, the group remains unchan-ged basically under its 38-year-old founder, Tuah Jili. The members are looking as sharp as ever, having made the state proud with their positive results in national-level performances and compe-titions over the years,

Tuah Jili, also known as TJ, is a well-known local choreographer dedicated to putting Bintulu on the map through his creative ideas in arranging dance repertoires.

thesundaypost talked with him recently to find out more about his profession and the impact of Sri Budaya Bintulu on a town moving towards be-coming a city by 2020.

Q: Can you tell us a little of yourself?

A: I’m from Kampung Kudei, Kuching. I’ve spent almost nine years in Bintulu as a choreographer under the Social Development and Urbanisation Ministry. I’ve been associated with cultural dances and the performing arts since 1985 when I was 15. A few years ago, I also recorded a few albums of Iban songs.

Q: Am I right to say you are more into dancing than singing?

A: Precisely. But both are equally close to my heart although presently, I’m more inclined to dance than sing.

Q : Why so?

A: Dancing gives me more freedom and opportu-nity to express my ideas and creativity – there
is greater space to use my imagination in planning
dance programmes.

In singing, if you are not the lyrist and composer, then you are just a singer who sings the other peo-ple’s songs. Totally different from dancing. I can dance and create the steps for my dancers at the same time. Creativity is the one thing that spurs my passion in this field.

Q: You formed Sri Budaya Bintulu in 1999 even though it was already set up in 1998 under a dif-ferent name. What changes do you see then and now?

A: Time is moving so fast and now we are 10 years old. Of course, a lot of things has change, and over the years, we have gained more experience and the troupe is now more matured in its perfor-mance. Of course, I have also changed in some ways.

Q: What’s the feedback to your work, especially from the younger generation?

A: The new generation have shown interests in dancing -- if not, you might now find all our dan-cers from the older generation ... grandmas and grandpas. (laughter)

Q: How do you keep the troupe constantly reple-nished with new dancers?

A: Apart from performing at official functions, we are committed to carrying out our objective of promoting and preserving local cultural dances.

Since the troupe is under a government ministry, I open dancing classes for the public, government agencies and the private sector.

Some come to us and show an interest to be in our troupe. Actually, most of our dancers are govern-ment employees and from the private sector.

Q: What is the response from the public?

A: When I first started the group, the people in Bintulu viewed us as something strange. During that time, most of the public were not exposed and educated enough to know and understand the meaning of our dance movements. But now, they know they represent the ethnic groups in Sarawak -- their cultures are illustrated through dances and this something precious that needs to be apprecia-ted.

Q: What do you do to introduce a dance to the youths in particular?

A: Apart from my dancing classes, I move from school to school and collaborate with their dance clubs or associations in organising dance work-shops and giving them information on the latest developments and changes in dancing -- its pro-spects and how it can boost self-esteem and con-fidence. As dancers, we emphasise discipline, and in a way, dancing can also strengthen relationships and promote teamwork.

Q: In what way can dancing help youths?

A: It’s a form of exercise that’s good for health. Most importantly, it helps promote self-discipline. Learning new movements demands high disci-pline. Moreover, through dancing, youths can use their time wisely and avoid social ills.

Q: When it comes to dancing, some people give negative comments, particularly on men who dance?

A: Okay -- I don’t blame them for thinking like that.
But you can’t look at dancers with just one eye. Most have good profession and come from good family. We should not simply judge a book by its cover. We have to look deeper before making any judgement.

Q: Some people think men who dance are soft?
Is it true?

A: No. We dance because we love this art and its aesthetical values. It’s not just about work but also interest in being an entertainer. If men prohibited to dance because some people think they are soft, then who is going to dance on behalf of the male gender? Cultural dances are part of our tradition and cannot be solely referred to as a gender pro-blem or anything bad. We cannot give a negative conclusion just like that.

Q: How do you envisage the growth of cultural dance troupes in Bintulu?

A: In a positive manner, I’m glad schools coope-rate closely with us as a backbone of cultural dan-ce performances in the Division. Most of my dan-cers today used to perform in their school dancing clubs.

We provide them with a platform to advance their interests in dancing after they graduate – even just as a hobby. Even tertiary institutions have their own dancing clubs or associations. I also conduct dancing classes for these students -- for example in Universiti Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus.

Q: What’s the best thing that has ever happened to you as a choreographer?

A: Recognition and trust to take part in either a state or national dance performance or compe-tition.

Q: What is the worst?

A: Not winning any awards in a dance competi-tion.

Q: What is your planning in the future? Do you still want to be a choreographer for Sri Budaya Bintulu?

A: I can’t say I won’t go anywhere because I be-lieve the farther you go, the more knowledge and experience you get. But honestly, I still love my troupe and it’s hard for me to go just like that. I’ve been through a lot -- good and bad times -- with my dancers over the past decade. But you never know if it’s fated that I should move next year. Be-fore that, I will make sure the troupe is in good hands … that my successor can bring Sri Budaya Bintulu to even greater heights.

Q: Do you have dreams for your own career?

A: What else I can do – I was born to be in this field. I wish to have my own dance academy some-day, if possible, an academy for Sarawakians. So pray for my wish to come true. We also plan to set up a junior Sri Budaya troupe in the future.

Q: Any last word?

A: I hope Sri Budaya Bintulu will be given full su-pport by the people in the Division, particularly in terms of promoting local cultures through dances. For my dancers, I wish them all the best -- I know they have sacrificed a lot for the group. To their parents, I thank them for their support, trust and permission to let their children join us in many performances and competitions through the years both locally and nationally. Lastly, I hope Sri Buda-ya Bintulu dancers will find more success and make a name for themselves as the best dance troupe in the state even without me around.

The numbers in the group:

1998-20 persons
2001-35 persons
2003-40 persons
2005-50 persons
2008- Present-60 persons

The group’s committee members:

Chairman/ choreographer-Tuah Jili
Secretary-Shariff Brahim
Treasurer-Azizi Nawawi
Clothes-Faizal Abd Rahman/ Gloria Jimbai
Props-Nicholas Salang

Sri Budaya Bintulu’s achievement at a glance

- Represent Bintulu Division to ‘Festival Tari Negeri Sarawak’ (FTNS)

- Emerged the overall champions in FTNS
- The Best group
- The Best Creative Dance
- The Best Choreographer for Creative Dance

The Best Performer for Dramatari Santubung in FTNS

- Represent Sarawak to ‘Festival Tari Kebangsaan’ in Selangor
- Performing at ‘Citrawarna Malaysia’ in Kuala Lumpur

The Best Performance for Creative Dance in FTNS
- Performing at ‘Citrawarna Malaysia’ in KL

The Best Performance for Creative Dance in FTNS
- Performing during ‘Jubli Delima 40th Sarawak Independence within Malaysia in Kuching

- Tuah Jili (as a choreographer/concept- Performing during the TYT 83rd birthday anniversary in Bintulu

- The Best Performance for Creative Dance in FTNS
- The Best Choreographer for Creative Dance

- The Best Ethnic Dance in FTNS
- The Best Choreographer for Creative Dance

- The Best Ethnic Dance in FTNS
- The Best Choreographer for Melanau dance
- The Best Cultural Performance in Pontianak, Kalimantan Indonesia

- The champion in ‘Festival Tari Malaysia’ (FTM) Zone 4 in Miri
- Represent Zone 4 to FTM state-level
Won six awards: Overall Champions award, the Best Costume award, the Best Music Arrangement award, the Best Choreographer award, the Best Traditional Dance award and the Best Contemporary Dance award

- Will represents Sarawak in the National-level Dance Festival 2009 in Kuala Lumpur

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