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Mak Yong
The Ancient Malay Dance-Theatre


Mak Yong is an ancient dance-theatre form incorporating the elements of ritual, stylized dance and acting, vocal and instrumental music, story, song, formal as well as improvised spoken text.It is performed principally in the state of Kelantan, Malaysia. Many theories have been advanced to explain the genre's origins. Its roots obviously sink deep into animism as well as shamanism.

To day the genre is performed in three basic styles:
(a) as non-ritual theatre for entertainment per se,
(b) as ritual theatre associated with healing and done in combination with the shamanistic main puteri, and
(c) as urban commercial theatre.

Briefly early in the present century, an unsuccessful attempt was made in Kelantan to create a palace version of mak yong. The mak yong orchestra is made up of a three-stringed spiked fiddle (rebab), a pair of double-headed barrel drums(gendang) and a pair of hanging knobbed gongs(tetawak) while the genre's musical repertoire consists of approximately thirty pieces, most of them accompanied by singing and dancing. No stage-properties and few simple hand-properties are used.

In mak yong, the male lead role (pak yong) is conventionally played by female performers. In addition there are the following roles: the female lead (mak yong); a pair of clowns (peran), a pair of female attendants (inang) as well as a wide range of lesser roles including those of gods and spirits, orges or giants, palace functionaries and animals.

The mak yong repertoire consists of a dozen or so stories, still existing in the oral tradition, dealing with the adventures of gods or mythical kings. The principal, and earliest story in the mak yong repertoire, entitled Dewa Muda, has tremendous spiritual significance. Mak yong performances last between about 9.00 p.m and midnight, and a story is generally completed in several nights.

For further information contact Dr Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof at The Asian Centre, Penang, Malaysia.