Singapore arts groups say acts altered to suit Malaysian censors

KUALA LUMPUR, April 7 — Several Singapore arts groups have said they usually alter their performances in Malaysia to suit the demands of local censors, the Singapore Straits Times has reported.

The groups said in an article published yesterday that they often work with Malaysian partners to ensure that the performance permits are obtained hassle-free.

The poster for the now-cancelled ‘Ballet Illuminations’ performance by the Singapore Dance Theatre.The poster for the now-cancelled ‘Ballet Illuminations’ performance by the Singapore Dance Theatre.The Odyssey Dance Theatre, a contemporary dance company, which was invited to the Asian Festival of the Arts in Malaysia in 2003, said that it did not encounter any problems when performing in Malaysia, but pointed out that it voluntarily altered the costumes of one of its dance performance — from G-strings to skin-coloured shorts — to ensure that the dancers would not appear indecent.

Danny Tan, Odyssey’s artistic director, said the change was not initiated by the local censors, but a decision made by the dance company to “respect the culture of our audience”.

Noor Effendy Ibrahim, the former artistic director of Malay theatre group Teater Ekamatra, told the Singapore daily he had to negotiate with the authorities in Malaysia to ensure that they were granted permits for a play at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre a few years ago.

Effendy, now the artistic director of The Substation, said the censors had issues with the identification of certain buildings in the play on the historical and political relationship between Singapore and Malaysia.

A compromise was eventually reached and the theatre group “creatively renamed” certain places so that they would not be identified, he said.

Other Singapore arts companies such as The Necessary Stage said that working with Malaysian partners ensured their permits were not rejected,

“Our Malaysian co-presenter, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC), gets all the paperwork sorted out on their end. To our knowledge, they have never had a problem getting our permits,” The Necessary Stage’s group manager Melissa Lim told ST.

KLPAC has been embroiled in an on-controversy with Malaysian government officials over an application to host a Singapore ballet troupe this weekend.

A Cabinet minister had denied yesterday that the Singapore ballet group had been barred, while blaming organisers for failing to apply for a permit on time.

The row has embarrassed officials and sparked concerns about their increasingly conservative attitude to the point of taking offence with the tutus worn by ballet dancers.

KLPAC has maintained it sent copies of its permit application for the Singapore Dance Theatre’s performance to Puspal yesterday as proof that it had submitted the necessary papers a month ago.

Its group theatre manager Ian Chow said the documents were faxed to Puspal director Ali Sadikin Sadin, who is also a principal assistant secretary in the Information, Communications and Culture Ministry.

Chow said the documents included the original application made on March 7 as well as an acknowledgment slip from the agency dated the same day.

But government officials alleged yesterday the KLPac may have forged documents to prove it applied for permission to host the Singapore ballet troupe that had reportedly been barred because of “indecent” costumes.

Puspal, or the Central Agency for the Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes, said that checks with the Visa, Passes and Permits Division of the Immigration Department found the authenticity of the documents to be “doubtful.”

It said in a statement that the serial number on the acknowledgment receipt of KLPAC’s application was the same as the one produced two years ago and insisted an official request was only made on Wednesday.

Puspal has denied receiving an application for the performance by the Singapore Dance Theatre, which was earlier scheduled for this weekend but has since been cancelled.

The performing arts centre has insisted that its production manager Freddy Tan submitted the application a month ago before being advised by an officer that the permit had been denied over “costumes” and “foreign performers”.

The Malaysian Insider reported on Wednesday that the ballet troupe had been refused a permit to perform here this weekend owing to their “indecent” costumes.

Organisers were eventually forced to cancel the “Ballet Illuminations” performance.

Culture Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim has insisted that the government did not reject the application, saying that he “loves all forms of the arts and theatre” including ballet, and urged organisers to proceed with the performance.


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