October 22, 2013 — Patricia Hardwick

The Body Becoming: Transformative Performance in Malaysian Mak Yong

Mak yong is a Malay dance drama found in southern Thailand, northern Malaysia, and the Riau Islands of Indonesia.  The form of mak yong, currently performed in the northern Malaysian state of Kelantan, requires its practitioners to be storytellers, actors, singers, dancers, musicians, and in the context of ritual performances, healers. Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, or PAS, the Islamic party that controls the Kelantanese state government, issued a ban on mak yong as a form of entertainment in 1991, yet performances of mak yong incorporated into main ‘teri healing rituals continues in present day Kelantan.

Scholars of ritual and healing performances emphasize the emergent quality of performance as essential to the physical, emotional, and temporal transformations that often take place during these events. While music, dance, and the vocalized recitation of prayers are aspects of ritual that are externally observable, other aspects of transformative performances are internal to a patient or practitioner.  An investigation of the embodied experience of a performer provides a unique perspective on simultaneous internal and external performance and the phenomenology of transformation that often takes place during ritual and healing performances.

Drawing upon interviews with performers, Hardwick’s talk will explore first-hand accounts of the embodied experiences of individual Kelantanese mak yong practitioners during their performances of the opening song and dance of a mak yong performance. I will also investigate how fetal gestation and birth are intertwined with a traditional Kelantanese philosophy of the body, and how individual performers engage these concepts while undergoing a process of transformation during their performances.