Powerful performance: The duet by Firebird and the Prince was spectacular.

Datuk Ramli Ibrahim reaches a career high with his long-awaited debut at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas.

When contemporary dance is fused with elements of traditional Indian form odissi, and danced to classical Western scores, the results can go either way.

In Datuk Ramli Ibrahim’s case, his stage presence alone is enough to create an impact and mesmerise audiences. He has electrified the masses with countless shows through the years. That’s exactly what he did once again last weekend in his debut performance at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP) in Kuala Lumpur, which represented a culmination of his work in the modern genre.


Master of charting new paths, Ramli showed the audience why he is still held in high esteem in this two-day show series Quintessence: Ramli Ibrahim And The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, which also closed DFP’s 2013/14 season. The MPO opens its new season on Aug 17.

Under the batonship of new Brazilian-born conductor Fabio Mechetti, the MPO accompanied Ramli, the Sutra Foundation dancers and Dua Space Dance Theatre in three works: Claude Debussy’s Prélude L’après-Midi d’un Faune (Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun), Maurice Ravel’s Shéhérazade (featuring Penang-born, Hungarian-based soprano YiLing Chaing) and Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite.

There were elements of cruelty, slavery and a range of moods and images in Shéhérazade.

There were elements of cruelty and slavery in Shéhérazade.

Starting the evening was Ramli, taking up the faun’s role in Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun. The classical piece, popularised by Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, is a musical evocation of French poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem Afternoon Of A Faun, in which a faun – a half-man, half-goat creature of ancient Greek legend – meets several nymphs. They awaken his sensual side, before he chases them away.

Nuances of odissi and ballet were rampant in Ramli’s solo, which saw him exploring his untamed side, with a fair amount of aggression and grace. By nature, goats are believed to be intelligent, sensitive, playful, affectionate and quick to respond to individual attention. Ramli portrayed this well and clearly, he enjoyed dancing this particular piece.

Once “satiated” on stage, Ramli sent the nymphs away. He preferred to be on his own, dancing with ecstasy and a smile plastered on his face.

At 61, Ramli proved that age is certainly no barrier in lighting up the stage at the DFP.

YiLing Chaing

Penang-born, Hungary-based soprano YiLing Chaing was a delight to watch.

In Shéhérazade, based on the magically evocative song cycle from One Thousand And One Nights, we saw the Western interpretation of Asie (Asia) being explored. Ramli took on the role of the majestic king, often dancing with a wanderer who encounters the exotic for the first time.

Ramli wasn’t alone in lifting this show skywards. The Dua Space and Sutra dancers collaborated well in this effort, with resplendent costumes designed by Melinda Looi and Datuk Bernard Chandran.

The parade by the royals, the walk about by the people and the discovery of sights and sounds seemed like regular scenes of everyday life. But the audience kept their attention. What stood out was Chaing’s haunting voice. She displayed a rich middle register, which proved so appropriate for this repertoire.

In Firebird, we saw Ramli producing a new work that could easily be his best contemporary attempt to date. The ballet, originally presented by Russian choreographer Michel Fokine, is based on the Russian legend of Firebird, a powerful good spirit whose feathers supposedly convey beauty and protection upon the earth.

In an earlier interview, Ramli had said, “I’ve never seen the Firebird ballet before because I didn’t want to be influenced by the choreography so what you’re going to see is completely out of this world.”

Indeed it was.

The Dua Space dancers’ powerful, energetic movements combined with Sutra dancers lithesome bodies and grace lent a stark contrast, but came out beautifully when put together.

The duet between Firebird and the prince was a delight to watch. And the princess,ahhh … the debutante princess was truly charming in a fairytale-like manner.

The enchanted tree (danced by Sutra’s Guna) had a quirky character, which was entertaining to watch, especially when dancing with the maidens. He would pulsate wildly, rattling his leaves and appear completely perplexed when the “shedding” was taking place (in the original plot, he is a magic apple tree). And the evil magician, big and intimidating, was not to be overshadowed either.

The energy was infectious as they played off each other to arrive at the happily-ever-after conclusion, before a jubilant Ramli took his bow. Six decades later, he’s still going strong.