Reflections on Asian Youth Theatre Festival 2018: On Beauty, Honesty, and Acceptance
By Reba Aryadi
We are all beautiful, as much as we’d like to believe we aren’t. We all constantly struggle to find what makes us feel beautiful in our everyday lives, too busy trying to find validation and sometimes forgetting that we are what we call beautiful. We define our beauty, and that was the message from Gigi Art of Dance’s performance, “Beauty in Diverse-city”, for Asian Youth Theatre Festival 2018 in Singapore.
Asian Youth Theatre Festival, often called as AYTF, is a platform for youth theatre groups, communities, and collectives, to meet and share their ideas and creations with each other. The event runs for a weekend where groups from different Asian countries including Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, and Indonesia, among others, present pieces and workshops to share with other groups and local artists in Singapore. Now it’s in second year, AYTF 2018 continues to highlight and present talents in different theatre communities around Asia. The theme for this year was Accessibility and Inclusion, two words that are starting to be noticed as an important part of any platform in the arts.
Gigi Art of Dance was invited to join again in the festival this year. Expanding on the concept of self-love and understanding diversity, miss Gianti Giadi chose seven dancers to be in the AYTF team this year to present their stories of beauty and acceptance in their own lives. Neala Vangelinn presented an insight into the concept of beauty as pronounced by make up brands and societal pressure on feminine facial appeal. Kyra Rumamby brought up her pressures to feel worthy of acceptance through achievements. Namira Zania Siregar highlighted the perils of social media and the necessary confidence that a person should have to claim their beauty, online. Gaby Setiadi presented her struggles at navigating life’s pressures at a young age. Reba Aryadi talked about accepting that gender does not define beauty. Ratih Riskomar talked about embracing the limelight and claiming her own space. Eldo Ramos, as the final chain of the performance, talked about accepting and supporting others as a way to be beautiful. The piece, and the dancers, are unified by their identity in nationality, their city of residence, and ultimately their humanity as the core of all their separate and unique lives.
After practicing and creating the piece for two months, the AYTF team from GAOD had created an interactive, physical, and expressive performance that ran for 55 minutes, the longest duration of performance everyone in the team had made. Prior to performing in AYTF, the group had performed a shortened version of the piece for the pre-Indonesian Dance Festival show and a full version of the performance in a special event in @america with G-Star, Gigi Art of Dance’s Down Syndrome performing class that will perform as well in AYTF. The audience responses were positive, but there were still nerves around the performance and how it would be received in an international audience. The pressure was on the team to do well as well as they had some support from different parties, including the Singapore Tourism Board and various local Indonesian brands that supported the costumes.
AYTF 2018 officially started on the Friday, 16th November, held entirely in The Republic Cultural Centre, Woodlands. The event lasted for three days, running on the weekend until the 18th November. The event was attended by youth theatre groups from Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Philippines, and Thailand. All of the participants stay and share rooms within the same lodging, and attend each other’s classes and workshop. The lodging were far from the performance space though, and unfortunately the space were too far apart and the scheduling did not allow for too much mingling. On the team’s arrival to Singapore, they only managed to meet a few fellow performers before having to run off to the performing space and practicing their blocking for the performance. The opening was presented the space with all the youth ambassadors from the event, presenting people from different background, communities, and privileges. G-Star performed to a standing ovation, their spirit touching everyone in the audience to tears. The group left after the opening and missed the first performances and workshops due to exhaustion, as it had been quite a long day.
On the morning of the second day, the group watched a performance by Seeds Brunei and Lan Yim Theatre from Thailand. The group presented significant issues in their society, with Seeds Brunei presenting a play highlighting the impacts of personal loss and depression in Bruneian society, while Lan Yim Theatre presented an interpretive and expressive piece about the cycle of violence against stateless immigrants in Thailand. After lunch, GAOD prepared and presented a workshop on contact improvisation and partnered exploration, led by Miss Gianti Giadi and assisted by Namira. The class gave an interesting insight to the possibility of using partnered movement in acting and explorations in theatre. The evening performances were presentations by Youth Advocates Through Theatre Arts (YATTA) from the Philippines and Green Leaf Theatre from Malaysia. The two performances offered a completely different but interesting and powerful play, where YATTA offered a fantastic musical on issues of racism and prejudice through Philippine folk beasts, shadow puppetry, and incredible sets, and Green Leaf Theatre raising a similar vein of localized issue, on Malay privileges in Malaysia, but instead highlighted it by slicing a part of daily life in Sabah and presenting it on stage with very strong actors. The GAOD group, however, branched out and some went to the Singaporean Aquarium and took pictures, created videos, and freestyled their way around the lovely environment.
The third day of the festival is GAOD’s performance day, coming in at 1PM in the middle of the day. The group warmed up with a very emotional exercise and bonded for one last time before setting off for the stage. As the audience pours in, they were greeted by the sight of the group in a half-circle looking and waiting for them to sit down and begin the show. The show went on for 55 minutes, entrancing audiences with technical movements, singing prowess, and most importantly very personal stories. Immediately after the lights went out, the audience went wild and gave a standing applause to the tears of the GAOD performers. Out of the one hour performing slot, the audience filled the remaining 5 minutes with questions and praises about the performance, which extends far after the performing slot has ended. The stories presented by the GAOD dancers resonated with the audience, having told many different stories that a lot of people share with each character.
The third day also is the last day ot the festival, where most participants will have to leave for home during the same day. Unfortunately this also meant that the GAOD group had to catch their flight home earlier than they would be allowed to join the closing party of AYTF. After packing and cleaning all their performance props, the GAOD group only had a few hours of catching the last performance of the day by Prachyanat from Bangladesh. The performance was a riveting and extremely emotional portrayal of the plights of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The performance went straight afterwards to the closing, but the GAOD group only spent a few minutes during the ceremony before having to take their ride to the airport and fly home.
Asian Youth Theatre Festival was an interesting platform, where the force of youth theatre throughout Asia is highlighted in a safe and supportive environment. The platform had helped not only raise awareness throughout the participants on the multiple dimensions of issues that afflict current society these youth groups occupy, but also the level of awareness that these youth groups have in observing their society. A lot of these youth theatre groups are run in order to combat or alleviate certain issues within their immediate society, and the highly localized plights they bring to the stage create pieces that are more beneficial and impactful to the festival. AYTF become a platform to showcasing the strength of youth theatre and what they are capable of bringing to the table. Through AYTF as well, GAOD students who were chosen were able to talk and discuss the issues that they face in their lives, and find strong lasting friendship in the process with each other. Gigi Art of Dance was honored to be able to be part of the festival, bringing a uniquely Jakartan aspect to the performance and highlighting individual stories that, while rooted in its locality, creates a performance that touches audiences universally with its honesty.
Here are some of the photos during AYTF 2018 : Click Here
Photo Credits : Roberdy Giobriandi