Locally Born - Celebrating the Peranakan Culture

Cultures have been meeting and mixing in Malaysia since the time of the people of Bujang Valley, who welcomed Chinese and Indian traders. Malaysia’s cultural potpourri has been revolutionized by many different cultures, but only a handful has had an especially lasting influence on its citizens.

One of the most prominent cultures to embed itself on the Malaysian canvas is the peranakan culture. The word peranakan in Malay simply means ‘locally born’ and is Malaysia & Singapore’s most fascinating hybrid culture, descended from unions between foreign merchants (China & South India) and local women. This month-long festival aims to capture the essence of locally born works, which makes Malaysia known for its melting pot of cultures.

This April, in conjunction with their 1st anniversary celebration, the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) will highlight the many traditions of the peranakan culture in their maiden arts festival themed, “Amboi! Baba meets Nyonya”.

With the help of prominent local artistes from various performance practices in theatre, dance, media, visual art as well as industrial guest speakers from academic, media and business avenues, DPAC’s festival team, helmed by Managing Director of DPAC, Datin Jane Ng, Resident Artistic Director, Wong Jyh Shyong and Co-Producer, Adrian Teh, hopes to depict the sparks that fly and a wealth of opportunities that are created when “baba meets nyonya” or in this case, when art meets people from different backgrounds and walks of life.

Managing Director of DPAC, Datin Jane Ng.

The festival, which runs from 3rd April to 27th April from 10am-10pm, will feature various programmes aimed at bringing the theme to life, which include “2 Minute Solos: Where Art meets Politics” headed and directed by dancer and lecturer, Marion D’Cruz; “Main Wayang: Hikayat Sang Kecil”, directed by Fairuz Sulaiman; and “Good, Bad, Nasty!” – A stand-up comedy show by local comic, Kuah Jenhan.

Co-producer, Adrian Teh also explained that the festival was an excellent avenue to challenge local artists to explore different aspects of their performance, allowing them to think out of the box and experiment with new formulas for and take their performance to the next level.

There will also be a free-for-all art exhibition throughout the festival, conceptualized by local artist Niki Cheong entitled “Strait Ahead”, which will bring together numerous artists who work with different media to play the role of explorers and visualize how traditional Baba and Nyonya artefacts would look like in 2014.

The highlight of the festival however will be world-renowned play, Emily of Emerald Hill, written by 3-time winner of Singapore’s National Playwriting competition, Stella Kon, which premiered in November 1984. Since then, Emily of Emerald Hill has gone on to create Malaysian and Singaporean theatre history by being the most performed play in full, abridged, added or without the playwright’s permission locally as well as abroad in Hawaii, Scotland, Hong Kong, Canada, Sydney and Wollongong. The play has also been introduced as curriculum in various schools and universities.

Directed by Chin San Sooi, this production will feature acclaimed actress Pearlly Chua, who has performed Emily more times than her predecessors that have played host to industry big names like Ivan Heng, Neo Swee Lin and Leow Puay Tin. Up to date, she has performed the role 165 times. DPAC Arts Festival 2014 will present 35 performances throughout the month of April to celebrate her 200th milestone with 15 student-packaged shows, 8 corporate shows, 8 public shows and 4 charity performances.

Pearlly Chua will celebrate her 200th performance as Emily of Emerald Hill

This festival will not only highlight the illustrious story of peranakan culture, but will also hold a market, selling peranakan food, fashion and accessories, an exhibition which will exhibit the past and present of peranakan and an open stage which will allow young people to show off their talents. The festival also aims to make arts accessible to general public where artists and audience gather to appreciate, enjoy, and interact with arts. Managing Director, Datin Jane Ng hopes and believes that through these activities, they will be able to draw the attention of young people, create awareness and inspire them to pursue their dream to pursue a career in the performing arts.

“Malaysia has many talented and international standard artists. However, they do not have the opportunity to perform or excel in Malaysia because the audience here is not too keen on performing arts or supporting local artists. From my point of view, given the opportunity, the exposure and support, Malaysian artists can be nurtured creatively and innovatively to gain high potential and leave an impressive mark on the international arena, “she said.

Focusing on dance, DPAC was founded in 2013 by Datin Jane Ng, who also founded leading dance collective Dance Space. DPAC aims to be Malaysia's leading dance space, uniquely devoted to widen and raise dance standards in Malaysia through the organising of quality educational programmes, and presenting quality programs from both local and international performers.

This article was published on April 18, 2014 in The Unreserved