Master Ramli Ibrahim is a Malaysian Dancer and Choreographer who also has achieved the title of "The Living Heritage” in his homeland. He came to Iran, a few weeks ago and his interview with Giti Online Press about art and especially, dance and music was conducted on his last day in Iran then he was rushed into his hotel to pack up and leave Iran hoping to come back soon to share more of his knowledge about art with Iranian artists.
J: First of all, I would love to thank you for your being in Iran, since this is your first time touching this land, please introduce yourself for our Iranian readers.
R.I: "My name is Ramli Ibrahim and I’m from Malaysia adding to that, I’m a Muslim. My profession is a dancer, choreographer and I’ve been dancing for the last forty five years. I must say that now, I’m running a foundation that is called "Sutra” which includes a theater, a gallery and also an academy, they are related to each other. but that’s not all, I’m connected to the artistic communities around Malaysia and all around the world such as India, Europe and South Asia so my background in dance is both in Malaysian tradition dance and Ballet modern dance and also, I’m specialized in two Indian classical dance styles: Bharatanatyam and Odissi so that’s my major background. Although, I had my degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Western Australia.”
"Due to my roots to both Indian classical dance and Contemporary modern dance, I believe that modernity has got to be redefine from the Asian perspective instead of western perspective and that’s all I can say for the beginning.” Ramli Ibrahim said.
J: Iran and Malaysia are alike in their religions and In Iran, dance have been marginalized for so many years. What distinguishes Iran from Malaysia that makes Iranians consider dance as an inartistic form?
R.I: "Well, I must tell you that my first exposure to Iranian dance is through ballet. When I was at Western Australia University, I met a dancer who was performing ballet dance which happened more than forty years ago. You know! Nothing is static and everything changes, so this is where the political linings dictate the cultural expression of the people at a more general level.” The Malaysian dancer acclaims.
"I feel that though Malaysia and Iran are respectively Sunni and Shia countries but both has got a view of dance which considers dance as a dangerous thing which relates to the body expression of dance styles which both male and female bodies directly confront the audiences so it’s very threatening because Islam religion finds the body a negative source of negativity that has to be covered and cannot be shown especially the female body. I have to say that many other cultures look at the body like that, too. For example: The Indonesian and Chinese cultures.” He added.
J: Unlike Western culture?
R.I: "Even it’s not solid in the western culture but I think the west intents the projection of the individuals so their form of expression is very strong but we do not emulate the west all the time. I mean, Iran has a lot of folk dancers and for me, they are very beautiful and also, they continue to express the urge for Iranians to communicate and express themselves through movements and I think, this cannot be suppressed. I think, the movement and the expression through dance is very natural.” Ramli Ibrahim emphasized.
J: from the moment that you came to Iran, you understood that we do not have any dance academy/ university unlike India, Malaysia and some other countries that I know that of. For me as a person who is out there and wants to learn and live dance, when I look at the brochures of dance institutes/ classes which I do not know the background of the dance teacher that he/she claims he/she is, I will act suspiciously and I don’t think if I go there, I would get the benefits that I want. How does building such academies and universities of dance effect the perception of people on dance?
R.I: "well, it’s the exact word that you said, building. When you build or cultivate something, there’s a strong slow process of building that is reflecting of the countries aspiration and going through that there would be many mistakes that you make. Maybe at one stage, Iran was looking at ballet which is a western oriented dance then maybe, if you had cultivated a contemporary modern dance for yourself, a dance with Iranian identity would have emerged the way, you can look at films and visual arts which Iran has achieved its identity through this world because they were promoted, funding existed and you discussed about it so I think, dance also need to have that process of building up until through the selective process you find something that the elite community of Iran says that this is what we want and this is the direction we have to keep going which has to be in line with the psychic of the people.” The "living heritage” of Malaysia said.
J: As we discussed earlier, the marginalizing of dance in the recent years effected in another way which is that we never ended the classical dance in Iran and we never had a regular folk dance but now, we see modern dancers who can dance modernly but the roots to the classical dance can’t be recognized so it sounds like they’ve lost the roots. When I look at modern dancers from Iran, I can’t understand the idea of choosing that modern dance style. Why is that?
R.I: "I think this is the same in Malaysia too, because of the effect of YouTube! Images, videos and messages from other parts of the world is available to everyone and for the young people, it’s easy to copy and paste in to their work but this way, I think, we have to stop!” The ringmaster choreographer criticized the rootless dance styles.
"In Malaysia, I’m one of the activists that promote redefining modernity from our perspective and in fact, in the taxi I told Abtin Javid (Ramli Ibrahim's Iranian disciple) that you have to look at the indigenous dance and from there, the sensibility of modernity can come in. The modernity have to be redefine form the perspective of the region because then, you can use the music and as I know, there are many contemporary music which indicates that Iran has a rich instruments and melodies that can be collaborated with composers and then, there are a lot of narratives that can come from the place itself and can be used to express the modern contemporary sensibility of the people.” He continued.
J: In Iran, some sport clubs hold dance classes such as Zumba and other kinds of dance that can be classified as a sport rather than art.
R.I: "I’m not against Zumba, Salsa or many of the things in the sport because I think, the movement is good but what do you do with it? I’m a serious choreographer and I’m not about doing sport gestures so it’s good for health and we cannot deny that, but we want something that is farther so we do not stop people in Malaysia from doing Lion Dance or something like that in order to general public be able to move because the movement is good. It’s better for you to dance rather than to run many kilometers but eventually, we want to find out the way which we can express the highest level of the human form of expression.
Everyone wants to paint but who paints in a way that we say that, "I Feel it, Picasso!” and yes, there is a difference between dance perform in a sport club and what a serious choreographer wants to do with it so Zumba, Salsa and whatever you want to do is just a form of a big thing called "exercise” but what do you want from it, is a different matter.” The "Sutra” founder confessed.
J: Does the place of holding a dance class effect the goal of the dance as an art? Like holding the classes in sport clubs rather than holding them in dance academies/universities because it can change the perspective of the learners.
R.I: "I think, there’s a big difference when you are in an academy looking at it from a serious point of view in a way that you’re not just doing it shallowly, you are there to find insight.”
"Where is the origin of Zumba? Why should we learn Zumba and not another dance style? Why can’t we do a folk dance as a form of dance which is so interesting for people to learn it? So that’s a challenge for the artists in Iran to bring this up because unfortunately, you cannot fight the world market and doesn’t matter how much the government will try to suppress it, the people find a way to understand it. I have to say that Zumba, soon will be outdated then something else would come like twenty years ago that we didn’t know any Zumba but we want to find something that is the core, the timeless and something that is reflective of the identity of the people.” He said.
J: Also, holding dance classes in sport clubs can affect the perspective of the audience in a way that because they’re holding it in there, it can’t be considered as art anymore so a simple act like this can effect on three levels that we are already discussing the third level.
R.I: "It’s very difficult to say that for me. Because you can start in a gym club and become an art form or it can be an art form and be developed to a kind of common thing that is performed in parks! so eventually, it depends on how the form is presented so if the artist/practitioner is doing it like a commercial thing so the audience will know but when Zumba or Taekwondo is presented so good, you’ll say that: I didn’t know that it’s going to be like this so the truth has got to be strong and you cannot just say: it started in a gym and it has no value.” Ramli Ibrahim explained.
J: Exactly like Bruce Lee did with his martial arts so we understood the artistic form of martial arts and it effected the cinema afterward forever.
R.I: Yes, I agree on that.
J: When is the beginning time of dance in Malaysia?
R.I: "It’s a very difficult question because we have always danced. When the art is the general face of a nation, if the nation is into its art forms so the total face such as visual arts, literature without the dance would be incomplete and I think, this is important and we have to keep the three dimensional look by not depriving one important part of human expression which is dance. In Malaysia, serious dance only came about 40 years ago.” He noted.
J: When did Malaysian realize that dance can effect on their lives, their culture and their lifestyle? What was the benefit of this understanding for Malaysian?
R.I: "(To Abtin Javid) He is a good questionnaire. In Malaysia, it’s a very different situation because it has a diverse culture like Malay, Muslim, Chinese, Indian and Christian and many other cultures and I’m a Muslim doing an Indian classical dance. I promote and claim that Indian classical dance is a part of Malaysian culture, Chinese dance is a part of Malaysian culture and Malaysian culture is a part of Malaysian culture so I have a very global and universalist point of view but on the other hand, I promote other Malaysian cultures because I only want a great, good dance in Malaysia.”
"Good dance. I don’t want a dance which is commercial that you can’t stop it but I want the audience to understand and be proud of dance that is developed from within themselves.” The reputed dancer discussed what he want from dance for the audience.
J: You have visited ancient and historical monuments of Iran in different cities such as Yazd, Isfahan and Tehran during your first trip to Iran. Any of those monuments was able to inspire you to make a dance routine?
R.I: "We’ve read so much about Iran. I’ve visited The Persepolis and I said to myself: "Oh, my God! This is so fantastic!” then I went to Yazd to see The Temple of Silence and after that, Bistoon was my next destination so I saw the cliffs and the things that Iranian have done.”
"I think. This will come inside me but what comes out later is another thing and I've find some of the music fantastic so I went to look at some of the instruments that were the origin of a lot of things in a way that I come out with so respect the ancient culture of Iran because outside people have heard news of Iran the way that I think some of the western countries is demonizing Iran situation and I like the fact that I came here and see that for myself that have helped the dignity and the sense of being strong which I respect this, very much.” He pointed out that Iran is a rich country especially in cultural aspect.
J: You said about music that you were fascinated by. From your opinion, which one of them is more pioneer in Iran: Dance or Music?
R.I: "I think, this is an irrelevant question. What does it mean? Who cares? Who can prove which one started first? None. At what point, does the music or the movement start?” He said.
J: I want to know the effect of one of them on another.
R.I: "They belong together. Do you speak first or do you move first? Because music and dance are the same and before you dance, you hear music. I think, that’s the source and human beings are both movement and music and they come together like twins.” And added.
J: my question was like: the chicken and eggs! Which one was the first?! I knew it…
J: You had meetings with some politicians which their field of work is related to the art. What was your achievement during this trip: Political and artistic?
R.I: "From political point of view, I’m learning history and the news we hear from outside is biased so by visiting ancient monuments and talking to politicians that work in the art field, we can get a balanced perspective. From artistic point of view, I’m just stunned by the kind of architectures and of course, I’m a great admirer of people like Abu-Ali Sina, went to his Tomb which I read and heard about him so much but being there, knowing that he is from Iran and his inspirations in philosophy, music and medicine gives me a perspective of how much Iran have contributed to the world. At last, I find out that the artistic expression has been enormous and we didn’t hear much about this which motivate me to come back, again to deepen my appreciation because eventually, art is experiential and not something that you can read in the books.” He exposed the outside media pressure on Iran which tries to damage Iran’s reputation in the world.
J: The last words from you for now!
R.I: "I think, Iran should stand on its own and personally, I’ve found out that I’m with Iran with all my heart during its rough days.”
Interview By: Farzad Jamshid Danaei