This contemporary theatre conference explores the performance practice of pioneering Malaysian theatre director Krishen Jit (1939-2005) in relation to the ongoing work of experimental and inter-disciplinary artists from Malaysia and abroad who have collaborated with Jit during his outstanding career. It brings together arts researchers, practitioners, academics and students whose work has been in some way influenced or inspired by the thinking and practice of Krishen Jit, in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of this practice and to extrapolate on its future application in culture and the arts, specifically theatre. Taking up where Jit left off in his final production, Monkey Business (2005), in which Jit collaborated with a contemporary gamelan ensemble, Rhythm in Bronze, to develop an interdisciplinary and intercultural performance with musicians, the conference interrogates notions of experimentation and collaboration that were crucial to Jit’s ethos, and mark a critical part of the arts company he co-founded in 1984, Five Arts Centre. Jit’s capacity to draw from the multiplicity of the everyday, and juxtapose the traditional and modern, local and foreign, led to his work becoming a critical site for alternative imaginings of contemporary Malaysia, evident in his directorial vision for Monkey Business, where the boundaries of performance were bent and twisted to produce a compelling, even if disturbing, reworking of what Jit termed ‘gamelan theatre’.

Monkey Business (2005). Susan Sarah John and Judimar Hernandez.

A provocative refashioning of performance was a significant part of Jit’s contribution to theatre thinking and practice, and the conference aims to draw from this resource as a focal point for reviewing the work of performance business in contemporary Malaysia and the region. The conference will include keynote addresses, panel discussions, workshop dialogues, story dialogues and performances that explore the methodologies, strategies, philosophies and politics that inform significant approaches to making contemporary performance. The discussion will be grounded in actual performances and practices, drawing on experiential insights and embodied knowledges, that enquire into Jit’s aesthetics, politics and practice while attentive to present and emergent frames and processes that inform current work. Presenters will include those who have collaborated extensively with Jit since the 1970s and more recently, as well as individuals whose encounters with Jit were minimal but nonetheless critical in apprehending the significance and scope of contemporary performance as part of a wider discourse on theatre and the arts. In addition, an exhibition that communicates critical aspects of Jit’s work through visual art, installation and multi-media will frame the setting for the conference and contribute towards a staging of ideas, practices and performances. As such the conference is geared towards generating diverse responses that are inclusive of the verbal and non-verbal, corporeal and conceptual, such that the process will engage in work that is intellectually rigorous and challenging, without being academically dense and dry! (Please click here for detailed descriptions of various components of the conference)

Family (1998).

Kuala Lumpur, a postcolonial, multicultural and modern city, provided the context within which Jit responded to socio-political shifts in the nation and region, serving as a potent site to develop inter-disciplinary and inter-cultural articulations of the contemporary human condition. Issues of difference, which continue to impact expressions of urban culture and identity in the 21st century, were often foregrounded in Jit’s theatre, and will feature as a framing trope in the conference. Allowing for convergences and divergences, arrivals and departures, the conference aims to initiate interactions and encounters that produce creative collusions and collisions, reflective of the plurality of networks that forged Jit’s theatre landscape. These critical engagements, moderated by skilled facilitators within an open and dialogic space, are intended to prod participants towards reviewing settled assumptions and rethinking hegemonic norms as part of a larger need to continually interrogate the workings of performance and art.

Critical descriptions, theorisations, questions and deliberations that emerge within the conference will be documented and analysed to provide accessible resources for practitioners and researchers, as efforts towards building archival research and supporting a discursive community of arts practitioners, academics, students and enthusiasts. In collaboration with online resource Theatre Makers Asia (TMA) archive, a project currently being developed by the National University of Singapore, Jit’s selected works will be available online. This resource will serve as a bridge for participants who are interested to watch Jit’s work, and participate in online discussions prior to the conference. A programme booklet is also envisaged as more than just a listing of events and speakers, aiming to provide useful articles that introduce, theorise and critique the ideas being discussed. This will hopefully generate interest in critical discourse among those who are new to the terrain, and create an inclusive context within which to dialogue the arts.

Charlene Rajendran, Convenor

Ken Takiguchi, Assistant Convenor