Silat is initially a traditional Malay martial art and subsequent evolve into stage performance with its stylized dancing like movement. There are various different types of silat which serves different function for example Pencak silat is the formal martial art of self defense whereas Seni silat is the aesthetic martial art and is commonly played in certain occasion such as wedding and is called silat pulut. The performer is always in dark colour costume with a turban tie on the head and there is always background percussion orchestra along the performance. Two performers will be involve in a silat section which both of them will normally start the ‘fighting’ in a slow motion in their gentle martial steps together with the hand gesture. Occasionally, a keris (small dagger) may be used. Although it looks slow and gentle, one can be killed by this martial art. Nowadays one can also see this martial art in Gerbang Persilatan Negeri at Gong Badak, either performance or competition.
Wayang Kulit is a traditional theater art-form using puppets and shadow-play to tell the epic tales of the ancient classical Hindu legends, Mahabharata and Ramayana. The puppets are made of buffalo hide and mounted on bamboo sticks. There may be as many as 45 puppets - handled entirely by a single master puppeteer, known as the Tok Dalang.
As a solo performer who representing all the heroes and heroines in the story, Dalang is the key of the performance - a masterly producer, conductor, puppeteer, historian, wise man, commedian, and the story-teller. Apart from this, Dalang also knows most of the music instruments meanwhile as the bomoh (Malay traditional practitioner). In the few hours of show, Dalang doesn’t only play the puppets, but also translates the voices of all the roles in the story apart from giving hints to the gamelan, sings and reads out loud. In some stories, the Dalang even uses ancient or classic dialect which in fact has long lost in the flow of time. He will breath new life into each re-telling of those ancient tales, continually reaffirming the currency and relevance of the harmony of life, the balance between antagonist and protagonist, giving a little homour, making the whole performance alive. Beside the usual story line, some good Dalangs react things that happen the day or make a joke as to cheer the audience. Atmosphere and the emotion of the hall are controlled and manipulated by the Dalang in his rising and falling voice. Sometime when it comes to an excited point, the hall could be in a tumult while come to the sadness plot, you might hear the sound of sneezing or see weeping eyes.
To become a Dalang, one has to spend years to study the tradition of wayang kulit and trained by already professional. Most of the times this skills will stay in the family and will be thought from one generation to another. There is also people believes that some Dalangs do mystical practice in order to fight with the black magic that can be called in a show full of gods and demons.
The hall is usually a small structure made of wood and bamboo. It is usually about 4 feet above the ground. The screen is called "kelir" and is made of white cotton cloth. Shadow of the puppets is made by a lamp which is suspended from the roof behind the screen. The performance is accompanied by gamelan music, which is the traditional and also by the voices of the female singers, called pesindhen. A full wayang kulit performance will run about 8 hours, begins at 8 or 9 o'clock in the evening, and run through until down, in order not to be too tiring for the performers and the audience as well, it is normally divided into parts for a single story. Resulted from the introduction of the modern entertainment alternatives, like any other folk plays, wayang kulit is facing the predicament straits of dying out and fading from the people’s memory. Today it is played merely as culture performance in cultural center instead in a yard in the village.
The Malay’s traditional life style is always artistic and sophisticated. Tarian or dancing, is another art that can never be separated from the Malay culture. There are a numbers of Malay dances in Terengganu and most of them reflecting the traditional Malay life style and ritual. For example the Tarian Balai which is danced by a group of village ladies with the purpose to thwart any disasters that might be faced during the flowering season in the paddy field. Whereas Mak Yong is a Malay dancing that combines of ritual elements, acting and dancing. Vocal and instrumental music is used together with singings, drama, story telling and music. This ancient classic court entertainment combines romantic stories, operatic singing and humor.
Tarian Gamelan was rather a royal dance and is originally played during the sultanate of Riau-Lingga and subsequently was brought to the Malay land by Sultan Ahmad of Pahang state. It was then introduced to Terengganu state when the Tengku Meriam, daughter of Sultan Ahmad married with the prince of Sultan Zainal Abidin II in Terengganu. During that time, this dance was only meant for the royalty in certain occasion. It was said that Tarian Gamelan has altogether 39 different dances of which part of these are created by Tengku Ampuan Meriam herself from the stories of she heard from story tellers. Eight ladies all in colourful silk costume will be accompanied by some musical instrument such as serunai, gambang, saron, bonang, kenong, gendang ibu and gendang anak to perform the story.
Tarian Ulit Mayang is another worshiping dance in the Malay dances. The dancing always begins with a person who is suffering from illness either when he catches fish, in the paddy field or any other daily activities in the society. The patient will then healed by a bomoh, a traditional Malay doctor in the traditional way. Seven actors beautifully dressed represent the 7 princess who come to visit the patient when the bomoh is treating him. Kemayan will be burnt together with chanting of pantun and dancing through the whole performance. Although Tarian Ulit Mayang was once a folk ritual ceremonial in the Malay society, with its gentle and graceful movement, it has become one of the beautiful traditional dancing in Terengganu culture.
Some of these dances remain part of the agenda during certain occasion or ceremony, such as in a wedding or in a formal official function during which the complete set of music instrument will be used and the entire story of the dance will be carefully performed.
Perhaps this is the time for you to shake your body a bit. Joget is Malaysia's most popular traditional dance that indicates the foreign influence in the Malay land. Joget is said to have introduced from Portuguese to Malacca through the trading activities between two countries during the sultanate period. It is a lively dance with an upbeat tempo which the steps and music are quite similar to cha-cha and is not necessary you need to know all the steps of this dance. When the music is on, the dancers will just gradually raising themselves from a sitting to a kneeling posture, then to their feet and begin a series of figures with their arms, hands and body. All the movements are slow and graceful sometimes accompanied with rollicking good humor. It is always performed by couples. Due to the lively music and graceful movements, hands clapping and joyous sound from audiences will definitely bring the spirit to a higher realm and it will not be surprise that the audiences are imitating the movement from their seat too. It is generally lively and very entertaining.
The traditional Chinese Lion dance is usually part of festivities such as during the Chinese New Year or launching ceremony of a business. It is believed to bring happiness and luck simply because lion is a holy animal and should be seen as a spirit that has its own place in Chinese Mythology.
Accompanied features are fireworks (usually crackers) and sometimes also the Dragon apart from a few other instruments necessary to make the music that comes along with lion dancing: a large drum, cymbals and a gong and the music matches the movement of the lion. The dance always starts with the deafing hits from the drum for a few seconds before the lion start its movements. The lion is animated by 2 performers who are normally Kung Fu practitioners, as these dancing require suppleness, flexibility, fitness, strength and good balance. In most of the performance, a bunch of lettuce will be hang on a string and the lion is required to reach the lettuce and grab between its jaws then tear the lettuce and throw it to the audience as a symbolic of luck.
Another Chinese folk art is the famous Chinese Opera which is always performed on special Chinese festivals such as the Festival of Hungry Ghosts, or the birthday celebration for goodness in the temples. The performance always takes place on a stage which is tentatively built for this purpose. Actors are always in heavy make-up and elaborate costumes perform period dramas laced with vocal songs and graceful movement and backed by traditional music. The story always has the ‘boy meets girl’ theme but in some occasion, classical legendary stories such as Wu Song Kills Tiger With Strategy are played.
The musical instruments used in the traditional Malay music are always classified into four categories. Aerofons are wind instruments which consists of Serunia; Cordofons are stringed instruments which are either plucked or bowed, eg Gambus; Idiofons are percussive instruments which are struck or shaken, Canang and Drum or Rebana Ubi in Membranofons, the largest group, are the drums and get their name from the skin or membrane which is stretched over the instrument to produce its sound when struck. Long before the invention of modern tele-communication devices, drum or rebana were used as a way to convey massages from one area to another area.
Today these instruments are used not only to convey the messages from the soul and heart, it is also a medium to reflect the daily life and belief of the people. However, because Malay been so willingly to absorb new culture elements, some of their music and dances have been in danger of extinction.
Although social performances such as singing and dancing in the public by women in public places like hotels were banned under the PAS government, hopefully with the winning back of the BN in the governance authority in the state during the recent general election, these artistic and meaningful dancing and performance will come back to the stage again. To have a glance of the dances or performances, you can check and pay a visit to Cultural Centres in every Friday and Saturday on April till October (5.00pm-6.30pm and 9.00pm-11.00pm).