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Growing beyond borders – Another performing arts enterprise moves on

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Next year will be Borak Arts Series’ last year (for a while) in Malaysia. To anyone who has been spoiled by having the event right here in their home country, it’s a little sad though mainly it means you’ll need to book air tickets instead of bus.

To our neighbouring countries it is only good news. Ever since MyPAA first started Borak there have been requests to make it mobile and give other hosts a chance. Like much of Malaysia’s top artistic talent, Borak Arts Series has grown beyond our borders.

In 2017, home-grown Borak Arts Series returns to KL one last time before flying out to become a citizen of the world

In 2017, home-grown Borak Arts Series returns to KL one last time before flying out to become a citizen of the world

This year I attended my first Series. It took place in George Town, Penang, during and in close proximity to the world-renowned George Town Festival. As cool as it seemed for to be in the middle of an international arts festival, I felt Borak Arts could have taken place at any time in any city. In the rooms reserved for the two-day event, was all the all the access, enlightenment and inspiration someone in the performing arts could hope for.

Access – Rubbing elbows with the industry’s rainmakers

At any point in the event you could find yourself having a casual chat with, consulting, lunching with, or even auditioning for someone with the means to give you a leg up on national and international stages. Opening doors at Borak Arts Series 2016 were festival directors, programmers, talent seekers, producers and funders from Malaysia, Australia, Japan, the United States, Germany and Thailand.

Walk on over and say hello

Walk on over and say hello

Borak Arts Series offers countless opportunities to meet – both formally and informally – these performing arts movers and shakers. Those who perhaps benefitted the most were the finalists of Pitchpad ASEAN. Representing Malaysia, several countries in the region and even one from Eastern Europe, these troupes had sent in descriptions of their current projects. Local industry representatives selected the most promising and original works among them and invited the groups to pitch their projects at Borak Arts, to the international panel of festival directors.

Vying for support and opportunities, select groups pitch their projects to an international panel

Vying for support, opportunities or even just expert feedback, select arts companies pitch their projects to an international panel

Enlightenment – Small stories that form the bigger picture

Borak Arts is a convergence of the region’s (and world’s) diverse players in the performing arts scene. It allows for discussion between those who are finding their way and those who have found it; those with questions and those with answers; those who seek opportunities and those who can offer them. On my first morning I compared cultural challenges with choreographer Ashley Lobo from India. His country, like ours, has a rich history of traditional dance and so his company, Navdhara India Dance Company, has found it difficult to gain acceptance and funding for contemporary dance.

Chatting with Cambodian director Dara Huot, I discovered that that performing artists are responsible for the most popular attraction in Cambodia after Angkor Wat. Not only does Phare, The Cambodian Circus, attract tourist dollars, it has also been invited to perform around the world. Naturally I wondered, can something like that be created here?

Are the challenges faced by arts communities local, regional or universal?

Are the challenges faced by arts communities local, regional or universal?

I was moved to learn from various presenters how the performing arts are used to coax out people who due to trauma or societal restrictions, have crawled deep inside a protective, mistrustful and silent shell.

During my first lunch (in my usual style, I crash any table that has only one remaining seat in order to meet new friends) I eavesdropped on the delegation from Singapore which included government servants whose job and joy it is to facilitate performances and grow the scene in their country. On day two I had lunch with engineering students from a local university. They had discovered in acting not only a passion but a practical skill – they claimed that drama class gave them more confidence and a better ability to express themselves than their peers.

I sat in on round table sessions to learn about loans made available to Malaysian artists, grants and collaborations. When more than one artist mentioned they had invitations but not funds to perform overseas I was able to direct them to information on travel grants I’d recently shared on ARTERI. Another funder, appalled that a famous local artist had not been able to attend events in his country for the same reason, handed over his card and asked her to contact him directly. This is but a small sampling and participants have also shared some of their meaningful encounters. In fact, The People I Met at Borak Arts Series could be a series of full-length articles, but naturally it is far better to live and write your own.

Inspiration – Ice-cream for the soul

Borak Arts Series is marketed primarily as a discussion and networking platform and more than delivers in that area. However, unless you have been to the event in the past you are not fully prepared for the part that is not advertised; the good it does your artistic soul.

By wearing this rainbow I tell the unheard, the ignored and the silenced... I hear you and I add my voice to yours.

By wearing this rainbow I tell the unheard, the ignored and the silenced… I hear you and I add my voice to yours.

For one thing, you are among kindred spirits – fellow believers in the transformative power of the performing arts. To say the arts are life-affirming would have been preaching to a choir. Here we heard about a power that was life-saving, from organisations that drew on the performing arts to reach and educate marginalised communities on anything from hygiene to human trafficking (Banglanatak dot com, India), to empower women and help young victims in conflict zones (Bond Street Theatre, US), and to provide career opportunities to youth (Phare Performing Social Enterprise, Cambodia).

Larger than life, the busker who made headlines closes the event with an explosive performance.

Larger than life, the busker who made headlines closes the event with an explosive performance.

There was the sheer diversity of Pitchpad ASEAN presenters – a look at new works and one or two new frontiers. Then of course there were the performances themselves. One was powerful in its absence – the award winning poet who had been invited to open the event was unable to attend because he also happens to be a migrant worker in Singapore and his employer forbid him to come. This, and two more that were performed – Pang Khee Teik and friends’ “I wear this rainbow” and a rapturous closing by busker Abdul Rahman Zainol did what great art does – shook up our emotions and lingered long beyond applause.

Your last (local) chance

Organizers are already accepting preliminary expressions of interest from other countries to host the 6th and 7th Borak Arts Series. But before that, those of us based in Malaysia can look forward to one more easy commute as the 5th Borak Arts Series takes place in Kuala Lumpur next year. We’ll keep you updated and see you there.

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Amy De Kanter
Amy De Kanter

Former Chief Editor, frequent contributor and enthusiastic audience member, Amy is thrilled to have a job that lets her do three of the things she loves most.