Wednesday, January 21, 2009

TELL - January Issue - Part 2

Dancing and performing all through her school years, Sasha wanted to keep it up. However, at the time there weren't any schools offering degrees in performing arts with a major in dance. So she went to Perth, Australia. It was a big moe, but during her stay in Australia, Sasha hardly felt like she was in a foreign country. In fact to her, Australia was just like home.

"My mum's from Australia, Sasha points out. "I spent a lot of time in Australia during school holidays. My grandfather in Australia taught me how to ride a bike, how to pick lemons from trees. I remember selling lemons to passers-by in front of my grandmother's house, so I could have a little extra money to buy things at second hand shops, flea markets and bazaars." Sasha keeps these memories close to her heart, alongside her Malaysian memories like Raya in Penang, with sparklers and 'pop-pops'. "Throughout my childhood I was very blessed," she says, "because I was able to experience both my parent's backgrounds, very equally."

After almost five years in Australia, during which she got an honours degree and some teaching and some choreography experience, Sasha returned home to Malaysia and again thought to herself there must be more. The inner rumblings had started in Australia, when she realised it wasn't enough to know how to dance. She knew if she wanted to make a living in the dance world she would have to know about more than just the dancing itself. That's why she studied marketing during her honours year. When she returned to Malaysia, she was hired as Assistant Director of Marketing and PR at Istana Budaya. The job taught her a lot about the mechanics of putting on theatre productions. And, of course it enabled her to keep on dancing and performing.

Her first lead role was the part of Lady Swettenham in the play of the same name, written by Sabera Shaik and directed by Christopher Jacobs. Sasha found it challenging but rewarding she says, "I had to play her from when she was 19 years old all the way up to her 40's, with all the transitions she made during that time. I had never been through many of the things she experienced - like marriage, childbirth, insanity - so I was really taking a lot on. But I'm glad I did it, and I loved every minute of it. And the morning after finishing the run of that play, I thought to myself, OK, what next? Of course, like always, I thought there must be more."

After 3 years at Istana Budaya, Sasha joined TV3 as host as the third season of Explorace. Then she hosted Beauty Secrets from the East. Both shows involved travel, which Sasha enjoyed. Not that it was always fun. There were rough days, gruelling schedules, last minute cancellations, people not turning up for shoots. It was at the end of one of those exhausting days that one of the directors of Beauty Secrets from the East suddenly suggested that Sasha do a documentary on dance. "I said I would love to, but I would need a producer, a director," she says. "And he said he would do it. In fact that's why he brought it up. So we put together a proposal, and we were lucky that our bosses loved the idea right from the start." And so DANSA was born.

A 13 episode documentary to be aired over TV3 starting in January, DANSA was shot in 9 Malaysian states including Malacca, Johor, Sabah and Sarawak. The 2008 production also involved location shooting in Australia, Indonesia (the island of Bali), Thailand and Japan.

In each of the locations, the prodcution crew was allocated 3 days to complete their mission - for Sasha to learn a new dance and perform it in full costume in front of a rolling camera, for national broadcast back home.

The traditional dances would be introduced to Sasha upon arrival by the local experts, giving her no time to master, but to merely grasp. Yet being the dancer that she is, Sasha feels she managed to go with the flow.

As timeless as dance is, Sasha reckons, so will DANSA be. As will her love for the art.

"And acting too," she adds. She would like to do more acting. Lately she has been gracing Malaysian's television screens as a high school cheerleader on 5 Jingga, a challenging role not because she plays a character 10 years her junior, nor because she had to learn cheerleading moves (she enjoyed that), but because she had to act for a camera instead of a live audience. Another challenge was that shooting a television drama often requires shooting scenes out of sequence. ("You might shoot a scene from episode 12 before you've even done episode 8.So I had to really know the scripts for the whole series, so I would know what the characters were supposed to be feeling during each scene"). Besides appearing on stage and television, she had a small part in a movie (The Red Kebaya in 2006) and would like to do another with a more substancial role. "Not necessarily the lead" she says, "just a role I can feel passionat about, a great character".

Sasha looks to the past as well as the future. The Bukit Antarabangsa tragedy hit home for her, not just because she lost her home in the Highland Towers collapse but because she did lose somebody close to her, her ballet teacher (who was one of the residents too) who ironically may have played a part in saving her life.

(To my dear readers, come back tomorrow - Friday - for the first question in the DANSA competition!)

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