Southernmost 2018 Physical Masterclass Students' Presentation - A Reflection

10 Nov 2018
Article by Sam Kee
Photo by Corrie Tan

Nget Rady and Didik Nini Thowok carry within them traditions of the Cambodian male masked dance form (Lakhaon Khaol) and classical cross-gender Javanese dance respectively that are centuries old. Their art forms have been passed down to them through generations of masters, but what is the future of their forms?

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Xiaoyi and his running text projections.

This time round, his text slogans evoke in me fond memories from when I was still teaching.

When we teach, are we translating our future?
When we teach, are we translating our prejudice?
When we teach, are we translating our limitations?

Yes, yes, yes. I recall, when I stood in front of the class of youths, I tried to pass down what I thought was right; what I could teach them was also all the things I could have known, limited by my own limitations. In the process, I must have also passed down my preferences — methods or ways of thinking, favourite authors or books. But at the same time, I must have also opened the room for opinions, encouraged them to find out more beyond what I’ve suggested to them; they could disagree, a teacher would have been all the more happier if pupils were able to come up with some original thoughts and substantiated opinions. As a teacher, I would also have to do more research while teaching, hoping to expand my own boundaries of limitations.

But yes, all that we could pass down to the pupils — our range becomes their domain; our boundaries become their boundaries, hoping that they one day become aware of these boundaries and learn to break through on their own. In that sense, teachers translate their pupils’ future, the future.

I particularly liked how Xiaoyi uses the word ‘translate’, as opposed to interpret, transfer, pass down etc. Translate, other than meaning to interpret or convert something into another (form or medium), also means ‘to move something a few steps down up left right, along an axis, or away from a fixed point of origin‘ in Mathematics. In geometry, during translation, the object being moved conserves its properties (its size, shape), and all the points of the object must move in the same direction and for the same distance.

I think this word pretty much sums up what I think the spirit of Southernmost is, of how Xiaoyi, as the artistic director, treats cultures and traditions, and how these can be manifested in the future, as a kind of future, in physical bodies. These bodies embed cultures and practices, and bring it to the future. I imagine a culture being translated in a Cartesian plane of time, along a pre-agreed axis. All the bodies move with a common goal in the same direction, preserving the culture in some form, in each body’s own way. But they move, towards a future.

When we learn, we are translating our vision.

As pupils, we then apply our own filter upon the domain of knowledge that we obtain from our teachers, and outputs our range, our interpretation of the knowledge. And what we filter, probably is something close to what Xiaoyi has stated in the wall, our vision. We take from the Teachers what we want, in order to move forward, to make sense of things that we want to make sense of. In a way, Xiaoyi is right. But as a teacher, I think when we teach, we are also somehow translating our vision of the future too.

How does a teacher judge a student who does nothing but stands on stage, to be watched, to be judged, to face the music? It is like asking me how to respond when my student hands in a blank script. Or how should the teacher judge a student who goes all out to put on a mask to become the very animal that she was asked to perform, but the mask seems to have become a shield, hiding her lack of confidence, preventing her from coming face-to-face with her fears?

Maybe what Xiaoyi wrote was right, or are accurate observations of the teacher-student relationship. But right now, the wall where these words are projected upon, lined with A4 papers fluttering in the air-conditioning, looks like a giant piñata wall, inviting someone to take a swing at it.


Southernmost 2018: Physical Masterclass Students' Presentation
Date: 9 Nov 2018
Time: 7:30pm
Venue: Centre 42 Black Box

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