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'Encore Melaka': A dazzling fusion of culture and technology

Josa Lukman

The Jakarta Post

Malacca  /  Wed, July 25, 2018  /  11:29 am
'Encore Melaka': A dazzling fusion of culture and technology

Shower of light: The Encore Melaka experience incorporates technology, culture, and performance in one package. (Encore Melaka/File)

With various ethnicities calling the coastal city of Malacca in Malaysia their home, it is no surprise the people there would want to celebrate their heritage. The Encore Melaka Impression Series sets about doing just that.

The 70-minute multilingual performance seeks to immerse its audience, including invited members of the press, in a time machine spanning six centuries, from Malacca’s establishment around the year 1400 to present day.

Encore Melaka’s first scene portrays Parameswara, the last king of Singapura (now Singapore) and the founder of Malacca hunting a mouse-deer. As the mouse-deer outwitted his hunting dogs, Parameswara decided to name his kingdom after the tree he rested under.

The following scene tells the story of Admiral Zheng He’s (Cheng Ho) drummers arriving in Malacca, with a visual projection of tumultuous waves and ships serving as the backdrop.

The energetic performance sets up the next scene featuring the drummers’ descendants, called the Baba and Nyonya, the honorific for the men and women respectively. 

Dainty: The Baba-Nyonya (Peranakan honorific for men and women) are among the groups represented in Encore Melaka.Dainty: The Baba-Nyonya (Peranakan honorific for men and women) are among the groups represented in Encore Melaka. (Encore Melaka/File)

A lone woman holds up a lantern to a door as a dance number is performed, culminating with a scene of a traditional Peranakan wedding, complete with the groom and bride wearing traditional attire.

The wedding scene marks the first audience interaction in Encore Melaka, as it ends with performers holding lanterns walking up the audience aisle and handing out treats to audience members.

When the promotional flyer cited Encore Melaka as an immersive performance, it certainly was true to its words.

Subsequent scenes depict stories of the Malaccan people, from the old man retelling a story of his six mothers who found him amid a shipwreck in 1948 to another celebrating the importance of Malacca’s artisans and cultural inheritors.

Eternal love: The Peranakan marriage scene also includes audience participation.Eternal love: The Peranakan marriage scene also includes audience participation. (Encore Melaka/File)

Encore Melaka ends with all 200 performers going up the stage to bid farewell to the audience, as they too become part of the performance thanks to a cameraperson recording the audience’ reactions, which is shown in a projection on the main stage.

Audience members in their first viewing would certainly be dazzled by the dancers’ fluidity, the touching storyline and the technological wonders that support the entire experience.

The rotating audience platform moves subtly enough to ensure a smooth transition from one scene to another, while the visual effects projected onto the main stage do an adequate job to convey a sense of dynamism while obscuring the seams on the stage’s panels.

While one can break the immersion by looking upward to see the ceiling stationary as the platform rotates or by focusing on the little sounds and seams noticeable at times, to do so is to miss the point of the performance entirely.

Heritage: A number of Malaccan traditional crafts are featured, such as the wau (traditional Malaysian kite).Heritage: A number of Malaccan traditional crafts are featured, such as the wau (traditional Malaysian kite). (Encore Melaka/File)

Each scene carries a message that should be digested and pondered upon.

For example, the year 1948 in the old man’s story carries a significant undertone, as 1948 was the year the Federation of Malaya was formed, which would then become Peninsular Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the six mothers mentioned in the story represent the different ethnicities that have lived in Malacca, from the Portuguese to the Chetty.

“My story comes to an end. Please remember my mothers’ name. They are Melaka,” the old man said in his final scene.

Also notable was the date of Encore Melaka’s opening show on July 7. The date marks the 10th anniversary of Malacca’s inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with illustrious guests such as the Malaysian tourism, arts and culture minister, Mohammadin bin Ketapi, and chief minister of Malacca Adly Zahari in attendance.

Spirited: Some 200 local performers are involved in Encore Melaka.Spirited: Some 200 local performers are involved in Encore Melaka. (Encore Melaka/File)

The mastermind of Encore Melaka is none other than Wang Chaoge, famously known for being the director of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games opening ceremony.

Chaoge, who spent two years in Malacca studying its people and culture, picked the Malaysian city to be the first Impression Series set outside her native China.

“I handpicked Malacca to be the first coveted home for the Impression Series outside China because it has remained true to its history and people, while welcoming outsiders with warm and hospitality,” Chaoge said.

As Encore Melaka under Chaoge requires a great deal of input from her as chief director, the stage and the theater itself was built with her requests in mind.

The Encore Melaka Theater is located in Malacca’s waterfront future city-within-a-city Impressions City. The porcelain-tiled building, billed as Southeast Asia’s first theater equipped with a 360-degree rotating audience platform that can seat up to 2,000 people, is the brainchild of architect Wang Ge.

“Many times in architecture, people focus on the technology, the technical aspect [of architecture]. [...] The first thing I want to portray in this project is the performance part the minute you see the building,” Ge said, adding that he also wanted to give people space for thinking.

Indeed, those wanting to appreciate Malaccan culture will certainly do a lot of thinking, on their own heritage as well as living with other cultures in harmony,

As Chaoge said. “I hope people leave the show with a new or rediscovered respect and admiration for this city.”

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