Ramli Ibrahim: A Malaysian steeped in Indian classical dances

GANJAM, Sutra's newest Odissi production, stired by powerful folk dances and music traditions of the culture-rich Ganjam district of South Odisha

Datuk Ramli Ibrahim via- kln.gov.my

By Yajush Gupta

“It was always there in me. Even as a 3-year-old, I used to like to dance. I used to dance in the fields instead of walking..it was innate in me”

His latest choreographic work “Ganjam” staged recently in New Delhi advocating his Guru Deba Prasad Dais’s Tridhara, union of the three dance streams, showcasing the contemporary and novelty of the much aged tradition.

Malaysian dancer Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, 62,has famously been alluring audiences with his performances and choreography of various Indian traditional dances for more than
three decades now. He has gone on to perform and win awards both locally and
overseas, and has also groomed many a talented dancer.

A cultural icon and a dynamic force in Malaysian playhouse, he is trained in both Indian classical dance and modern dance styles. In Malaysia, Ramli is hailed as a pioneer dancer and choreographer of international footing in numerous dance forms namely – Bharatanatyam, Odissi as well as Contemporary Dance.

 Tridhara is the union of the three dance streams, namely, tribal, folk and classical.Produced more than 40 original dance repertoires in the traditional and contemporary idioms. For Ramli, theatre is the all-obsessing instrument for his creative vision.

oddisi -via flickr
-via flickr
  • Born into a liberal muslim family, Ramli Ibrahim’s father was a teacher. His Mother Kamariah was secretary of United Malays National Organisation .He went to the University of Western Australia in Perth to be a mechanical engineer and pursue dance alongside my academic activities.
  • Ramli learnt Malay folk dances and ballet and has performed with the Sydney Dance Company in Australia, New York, London and Europe.
  • He joined the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne and took rigorous ballet training, before taking on Bharatnatium in various forms.It was then that he mastered the art of Bharatanatyam from Adyar K Lakshman in chennai, and used to perform Indian classical dance under the name of Ramachandra
  • From 1980 onward, he started to perform in chennai. At that time from London Kamadev was sent to study Bharatanatyam by Ram Gopal, Radha Anjali from Vienna was also studying under Adyar Lakshman. Swapnasundari was also taking lessons in Bharatanatyam and regularly started to performed in Chennai at major Sabhas, and at Kalakshetra.
  • Unfortunately, despite being raised into a multi cultural society,Ramli Ibrahim faced a lot of critisism from various religious groups. He was the  Muslim who performed Hindu dance form while taking on the traditional dance of India. Although Malasyan society did not object to the cultural expressions of Indian Diaspora , also the fact that  not many chose to go to the theater in Malaysia and this was the reason that the Malaysian audiences loved his performances. Ibrahim envisions unity within the diversity of all of Sutra’s artistic endeavors. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that although Islam is currently the state religion, historically Malaysia has honored cultural ties with Buddhist, Christian, Persian, Hindu, and other cultures.

“But I stood my ground. I argued that the Malaysian constitution and policies did not object to Indian Diaspora’s dances.

                                      -in an interview with The Hindu
  • His attraction towards Odissi as against the structured, too steeped in tradition Bharatanatyam prompted him to  go to Puri and learn from a disciple of Guru Deba Prasad Das.In London when performing Nijinsky’s role in Poppy ballet,he had invited Ram Gopal who  performed before Nijinsky. He loved Ramli Ibrahims dancing and immediately introduced him to Indrani in Delhi.But he soon found that he wasn’t learning what he wanted to and became a direct student of Guru Deba Prasad Das
  • The intense guru-shishya relationship that Gajendra Kumar Panda had with Guru Deba Prasad Das inspired him to write ‘Adorations’ which culminated in many performances.

Indian Government has honoured Ramli Ibrahim with Sangeet Natak Akademi award for my contribution to Odissi.He has also been awarded Datukship, which is similar to Padma Awards in India.

In an interview with the Narthaki magazine, when asked, about his views on guruship, he replied:

“I don’t like people diving at my feet! Whatever you do, you must start with a pure inner heart, not just an outward ritualistic show. When it comes to a performance or class, if they don’t come up to expectations or make me wait, they get hell from me. That’s the guru in me. If you do not have respect for your art or for your parents’ money, why are you wasting my time and yours? That’s why we have performed very few arangetrams. We do not recommend arangetrams unless the student is serious about making dance a very important part of his / her life. Otherwise, it has no relevance. For a lot of students, arangetram is the beginning of an end. Most of them start a kitchen class. Too many mediocre teachers and dancers around. Over popularizing Bharatanatyam has resulted in this.”

Yajush is studying journalism in New Delhi. Twitter :@yajush_gupta