Dancing around the issue

These couple of days, there has been an issue that’s been making some rather fine ripples around here. No, I’m not talking about the Bersih 3.0 announcement, to which I went. I’ll keep that for next week.

What I’m pointing at is the news that a Singaporean ballet company has been allegedly “banned” from performing this upcoming weekend at KLPac. While I hold no warm feelings towards our southern neighbour, I was, to understate it, very disturbed that a dance troupe could be banned from performing in our country. And I’m not even talking about pole-dancing. Ballet has got to be one of the oldest forms of dance, barring traditional dances from Asia.

Back tracking a little, though, our country doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to allowing foreign artists to perform in  Malaysia. Or rather, the authorities have made it quite clear that they are slowly, but surely, taking on a more conventional, if not medieval, stance when it comes to deciding what the general public can or can’t watch.

So here I thought it was yet another instance of the government making an over-protective decision by barring the ballet performance, said (then) to be due to the “indecent” attire, which happens to be the classical ballet tutu.

But then the Ministry decides to give us a surprise this time around. On the very next day, the minister himself comes out to make a statement saying he “loves ballet”, that the ministry made no such decision, and that the organisers should “go ahead with the performance”.

Before I even go on with more recent events surrounding this issue, I’d like to ask one question. The agency in charge (Puspal) of actually approving or rejecting the permit is, no doubt, under the purview of the ministry. But surely we are not to believe that the ministry should be involved in this decision at all, much less the minister himself! That’s all the reason there is for there to be agencies like Puspal set up in the first place – to make decisions on the part of the ministry, on matters that are not so big as to require the attention of the minister.

But there you have it, the Minister himself coming out to make a declaration that no such ban has been made, and that the organisers should “continue” with the performance, knowing full well that if there is no permit, the organisers cannot have this performance at all!

So now we go into KLPac’s reaction, claiming that they did, indeed, receive a rejection from Puspal. Otherwise, why would they have refunded the ticket holders? And really, why would they have done it, if not for the fact that the performance could not be held? There is just no sense in doing so.

Now, in this instance, Puspal says that they have never received any application about any Singaporean ballet troupe coming to KLPac for a performance. None at all. So what they are implying here, is that KLPac organised the performance, sold tickets, arranged for the dancers to come, and then decided that they were not going to go ahead with it, canceled the performance, refunded the people who paid to come watch the dance, told the Singaporean ballet company that they had been barred, and blamed everything on Puspal.

KLPac then showed them evidence that the application was made, and the rejection was received. If you thought this was the end of it, and that Puspal would quietly slunk into a dark corner, you are dead wrong. They surprise us yet again, saying that the documents KLPac produced as “proof”, might be forged after all!

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, this has just gone on for too long. No matter what the outcome of this debacle (an extremely embarrassing one at that), it remains that the Singaporean dancers will not be able to make their performance at KLPac this time around.

What should really be addressed here is the fact that no matter how shockingly unbelievable it is that the Malaysian authorities would ban a classical dance troupe from performing in the country, it is at the same time, shockingly believable. There have been too many such incidences when our ministry showed us just how irrational they can be.

They’ve dictated the kinds of clothes performers should wear during their shows so as not to “offend” the sensibilities of our citizens, when we know full well that the only people who will be seeing them in their “indecent” costumes are the people who pay for their tickets, and already know what they’re in for.

They’ve banned entire performances, no matter that the artiste is already in the country, because they reckon that a tattoo will “offend” a particular creed of people.

They’ve banned books, children’s books, for being “offensive”, because they use the “actual names of the male and female sexual organs”, forgetting that it’s a book on sex education, and they are all drawn cartoons.

They’ve shown us time and time again that they can make the most idiotic decisions, and defend those decisions like as if they were made with our interest in mind. So really, is it so odd that almost no one believes them when they now say that they did not reject the application, or that they suspect the documents to be forged?

The ministry, and its agencies, should really ponder on this, and rethink their public relations strategies. They are starting to make us look like a nation of backward, uncultured people who have no interest in the world’s art, except for our own. And really, if they continue with what they are doing, we might just end up the way they envision it.

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