By Yong Yen Nie
The Malaysian government has denied a permit to a Singapore Dance Theatre days before they were slated to perform in the Malaysian capital city of Kuala Lumpur. While no official reason was given, local media has claimed that the denial of the permit was due to the troupe’s “indecent” costumes, including classical tutus that have been worn by dancers for centuries.
The permit was denied by the Central Agency for the Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artists, or PUSPAL, which is under the purview of the Information, Communication and Culture Ministry.
According to Singapore’s Straits Times, the Singapore Dance Theatre has denied that “indecent” costumes were the reason behind the cancellation of the performance in Malaysia. The dance company was supposed to present Ballet Illuminations, a mix of contemporary and classical works such as the Nutcracker, when it received news on Tuesday that the approval had not been granted.
Janek Schergen, the company’s artistic director said the news came as a shock as the licences for ballet performances in Malaysia for the past two years had been granted without a hitch.
MyDance Alliance president Bilqus Hijjas slammed the decision by the government agency as “deplorable” and “inconsistent,” as dances that featured classical tutus were allowed to be held even at government-run venue just earlier this year.
In an open letter published by the Malaysian Insider, she said the women’s costumes included long skirts and classical tutus that had been used by ballet dancers. “Ballet dancers in Baghdad are allowed to wear ballet costumes on stage. Are we to understand that the Malaysian public is less cosmopolitan, less morally resilient and less broad minded than the citizens of a Middle Eastern country that has been ripped to shreds by war and violence?”
Hijjas said the inconsistent judgment from PUSPAL has caused enormous doubt in the arts community, not to mention a huge loss of money.
“In light of recent similar occurences, Malaysia risks an international reputation as an unpredictable and unreliable host for cultural performances. Singapore, with its more predictable and reasonable procedures, will continue to eclipse Malaysia as the venue of choice for world-class performances,” she said.
Less than two months ago, the government also banned Erykah Badu’s concert just days before she was supposed to perform in Kuala Lumpur after a government committee decided that she had ‘offended religious sensitivities’ of Muslims by posing with tattoos of the word ‘Allah’ in Arabic.
Two editors of a prominent Malaysian English-language newspaper were also suspended for approving a photo of American singer Erykah Badu on the publication’s entertainment section. The image was supplied by Badu’s official record label, Universal Music, in the run-up to the concert.
In the past, several international musicians performing in the country – such as Beyonce Knowles, Gwen Stefani and Mariah Carey – have been asked to cover up if they wanted to perform.