The Malaysian Makyong theatrical dance: from dying art to Broadway performance?

Makyong - © Universiti Malaysia Kelantan
Makyong - © Universiti Malaysia Kelantan

Makyong, a traditional form of dance-drama, has a very long tradition in Malaysia. This is especially the case in Kelantan, the most northern state in the country. What began as a court performance in order to entertain the sultan was so well regarded that Makyong performers often earned a lot more than any other kind of performers. The art form later even expanded to amuse the masses. However, Makyong has fallen into decline since 1991, when it was banned in Kelantan due to the islamization of the state. This, among other things, prohibited women from performing in public. One of Malaysia’s most famous performers, Farok Bin Zakaria, is now fighting for the revival of this forgotten art.

Farok explains: “Makyong is a form of Kelantanese classical theatre combining the arts of singing, dancing, acting, and comedy. It is an important part of Malay culture since it explains the roots of the Kelantanese way of life”.

When asked about what attracts him to the art of Makyong, he says: “The aesthetic value of its costumes, the dialogues, the beautiful melodies of the songs, and the delicate body movements of the dancers have made me really passionate about Makyong. Performing it keeps my soul peaceful. It is my passion, my way of flowing.”

© Universiti Malaysia Kelantan

© Universiti Malaysia Kelantan

Farok bin Zakaria is not only a performer, he also teaches the artform to younger generations at the University of Malaysia Kelantan (UMK). His Makyong group Bunga Emas Seri Temenggong (The Golden Flowers of Seri Temenggong) comprises of almost twenty actors. Every semester up to fifty students sign up for the Makyong course at the university.

He has been passionate about this dance for almost his entire career and has put a lot of effort in the revival of Makyong. “I hope to see Makyong being commercialized, for it to become like the opera in Europe or China. I would also like to add some modern elements to the performance, in order to give Makyong some Broadway characteristics.” At the same time he wants Makyong to be seen all over the world as a high cultural representation of Malaysia.

His efforts to revive Makyong have certainly made a difference, says Farok: “Younger generations have regained interest and we have students from Thailand and China who came all the way to learn about Makyong. We have also received many invitations to perform at official, sometimes royal, functions, as well as requests to perform overseas.”

Whether his desire to turn Makyong into the next Broadway bestseller will come true is a question only the future will point out. As for the renewed performances, we can only hope that the modernization and commercialization doesn’t devalue the art to a mere tourist attraction in or outside Malaysia.

Do you want to attend a Makyong performance? In November 2015 the Bunga Emas Seri Temenggong are performing at the Beijing Central Music Conservatory.

Photos © Universiti Malaysia Kelantan

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