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Review: Kotor by -wright Assembly

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The concept of he for she gets a visceral, movement-based portrayal by -wright Assembly.

In a decidedly deviant conceptualisation from the usual plethora of female-led work this International Women’s Day, -wright Assembly breaks the mould to present a new interdisciplinary, movement-based performance choreographed by Ismail Jemaah, primarily featuring male performers, as it explores the concept of male responsibility in the ongoing fight for gender equality.

From the moment one enters the space at Rumah P7:SMA at Stamford Arts Centre, one is greeted by printouts of headlines surrounding issues of gender violence and sexual assault pasted on the walls. We settle into our seats, and examine the set – a circle formed by a sound cable attached to a ukulele, as sound artist Aqilah Misuary (the sole female performer) stands at her station, perched on a pedestal behind two white columns as she fiddles and manipulates her soundboard and laptop. The windows are open, the air is warm, and there is a stillness before the performance begins.

Enter Kaykay Nizam, Ismail Jemaah and Sufri Juwahir, each dressed in a sleeveless white top and black pants. They are initially friendly towards each other, warming up, stretching and extending their bodies. Unbuttoning their shirts, they stay within the cable circle, free from external disturbances as they cartwheel and in general, have fun. Things change when Kaykay Nizam picks up the cloth sacks in the middle of the circles, pouring out grains of rice all around the circle while Aqilah’s soundscape changes from calm to the disturbed, and the men begin performing increasingly agitated movements, at times slamming themselves onto the ground, or their bodies becoming more flustered as they navigate the space.

The environment is no longer the peaceful landscape it once was, as Aqilah folds paper aeroplanes out of the printouts on the walls, tossing them towards the audience in an attempt to communicate and tell these men of the violence and assaults happening outside of their protective circle. Each time, Kaykay Nizam picks up the aeroplane, unfolding it and filling it with rice before regifting it to Aqilah, as if intentionally ignoring the message, or simply paying lip service to her paper cries for assistance. In between, a projector screens a message onto the wall, as the men grapple with each other, half in play, half in fight, the projected words darting back and forth across their bodies and the wall, while one by one, Kaykay closes each window, metaphorically shutting the group off from the rest of the world.

Eventually however, the men grow weary of the constant messages, their faces wracked with agony as they can no longer hold back their emotions. The circle has been messed up, the rice strewn all over, the men can no longer ignore the violence that has wreaked havoc upon their own ‘safe space’. Aqilah parts the two white columns before her, and places each of the rice ‘gifts’ back on Kaykay as he struggles to balance them on his head and arms. Each bundle falls to the ground, spilling out everywhere, and the men continue to exist in states of dysfunction, flailing and writhing about.

Unsurprisingly, it is Aqilah who comes to the aid of them all, as she steps away from her sound system, and enters the performance space proper. Unlatching the ukulele, she circles the men and plays a tune, as if to calm them down while she dismantles their circle. Taken by this, we see the men in various states of distress, some sullenly silent, another with his expression filled with regret and anguish. One by one, they move to the windows and open them, letting in the light once again. The silence is broken, the circle of protection is broken, and finally, the men are on the same wavelength as Aqilah, slowly but surely accepting the hard truths of the world. Guiding them, they each pick up a headline and fold it into a paper airplane, simultaneously tossing them out a window in the hopes that this message of solidarity and male alliance spreads to the world out there.

What Kotor results in is a visceral look at the importance of male input in the fight for equality and protection of women in an increasingly dangerous world. The only solution is to spread the word, come out from our shells and disintegrate the circles of silence men surround themselves by, breaking the cycle to open the conversation to more people, and hopefully, pushing the efforts further still with an entire gender’s worth of support behind them.

Performance attended 9/3/19 (3pm)

Kotor played from 7th – 10th March 2019 at Rumah P7:1SMA at the Stamford Arts Centre. 

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