Beating the odds

STAMPING HIS MARK: A dance drama choreographed by Paul.

KOTA KINABALU: Amandus Paul Panan is a 29-year-old Sabahan, who holds a bachelor’s degree in creative arts from Universiti Teknologi MARA.

Amandus Paul Panan

He lectures part time at the Faculty of Creative and Artistic Technology in that University in Shah Alam, Selangor.

He is also the artistic director of Abantug Production, a company that deals in dances, creative arts and films.

However, Paul, as he is known to his family and friends, stands a little apart from any lecturer or as a mere artistic director. What makes him different is his talent, which, coupled with his sharp intelligence, is extremely impressive.

He thinks outside the box, so he shared, and with such an
attitude, he showed his talent as a dancer at the Expo Malaysia Bangladesh, in Dhaka Banglasdesh from May 20 to 30.

He performed contemporary and Malaysian traditional dances, including the intricate and almost mystical Kelantanese dances.

He also participated in the Festival Zapin (Fekaz), Universiti Sains Malaysia, Pulau Pinang, organised by Prisma Seni.

PROUD ACHIEVEMENTS: Paul and his dancing partner showing their trophy.

He won first place as choreographer and also snapped up the best costume slot for this attempt.

He also participated as a choreographer in the Festival Colours of The World (Fesco 2012) — at University Teknologi Petronas (UTP), also organised by Prisma Seni.

He proceeded to perform with the Cuci the Musical III at Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur as part of the ensemble.

This musical was produced by Tall Order Production and directed by Harith Iskandar and Hans Isaac.

In early July, he was among Malaysia’s representatives for the Bulgaria International Folklore Dance Festival 2012. He went as a dance choreographer.

Paul has since performed for Malam Anak Kelantan and Anak Negeri Sembilan at UiTM, SACC, Shah Alam, under Primaseni.

Last year, he also participated in Andong International Folk Art and Mask Dance Festival, organised by IOV (Unesco-NGO).

At this festival, he danced and won second place as a choreographer in the group category and placed third as a solo dancer.

He also took part in the MMU Dance Festival 2011 and choreographed the creative dance Tenun, as well as a combination of Malay traditional dances.

The highlight of last year could well be the World Championship of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, USA.

His group won the championship (THE BODY) in the senior group dance category. He came back to the country and choreographed for Sekolah Menengah Cochrane, Maluri, Kuala Lumpur for their High School Dance Competition 2011. He won as choreographer there too.

ELEGANT: Paul and co-dancer performing a traditional dance.

Actually, if all his achievements in dances and performances can be listed out, they will fill pages, even more so if they are written and explained in totality.

Paul was born in Kota Belud to Dusun parents from the Tindal and BunduLiwan community.

His parents have always been traditionally inclined, teaching their children their family background, culture and traditions.

As a boy with five elder sisters, he had watched them dance both the sumayau (bunduLiwan) and the mongigol of the Tindal

“When I was one year old, my mother took me to harvest festivals to watch these performances. I was always fascinated — always trying to depict them in movements.

“The sumazau, for instance, looks like eagles flying in the sky. The men spread out their arms like the wings of eagles flying over the females with smaller wings. They fascinated me a lot,” he shared.

Paul believes the dances by the local people — the tribes of Sabah — are not mere movements performed to the tempo of the gongs and musical instruments.

“They also tell a story or stories of the people’s past. The warrior dances, especially, portray hunters going into the forests to hunt for game.

“At times, they depict the movement of a battle and head hunting. Executed properly, the dances convey a message of strength and fierceness — and occasionally, cruelty too.”

He said dancing for him is a passion, and to him, everything is a dance — the movements of the legs, arms, feet and eyes as well as the swaying of the body.

“Each movement is a message. A blink of the eye, a stamp of the foot — they all carry messages to the audience.”

Paul did not start out as a dancer but a singer. While in primary school, he was ‘discovered’ by the principal Elizabeth Jaikul, a former singer herself.

He was always seen in the company of a cousin, a very good singer — even now. His principal asked him to audition for a primary school inter-district singing competition.

He won the boys’ category while his cousin won the girl’s category.

“After a lot of practice, we went and sang our hearts out. We won, and so at age eight, I made up my mind to go into entertainment one day.”

Paul’s secondary education at Shan Tao, Likas, was filled with adventures, but most important of all, he said, he discovered dancing.

And in 2000, he participated in Sabah Fest and Borneo International Folk Festival 2000, held in collaboration with Sabah Tourism and Sabah Museum.

“I also took part in the Sabah’s Inter-Secondary Schools Dance Festival 2000 in Labuan as dancer and choreographer,” he said, disclosing that before that, he represented the southwest region of the state in the Bintang Asli Remaja Sabah 1999 competition and Sabah in the Citrawarna Parade in May, 1999, at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur.

He said participation in all these events was a source of encouragement to him in his younger days.

It spurred him to enter university to acquire a degree in the performing arts as he wanted to share his success with fellow Sabahans.

He said he tried to learn as much as he could.

Paul has also sung behind the scene in the theatre presentation of Puteri Gunung Ledang for Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina and M Nasir.

“Working with well-known artistes made me realise that hard work and the quest for perfection are the best way to go forward in performing arts.”

He’s now confident in his acting as well as in Malaysian traditional dances, traditional creative dances and contemporary dances.

He can sing traditional and contemporary songs in his mother tongue (kadazandusun), Malay and English. Paul is a success story of sorts, actually.

He was born into a family that may not be called impoverished but were struggling.

He is one of seven siblings and his parents slogged to send them to school.

“I remember my mother, a self-taught seamstress, making dresses and things like that way into the night to supplement my father’s income so that we could go to school.

“At a very young age, we went to live with our grandparents in my mother’s village in Inanam and my mother had to take a job at a tailor’s shop to support us. I remember going to school hungry with no money for lunch. I had to wash my own shirt everyday as I only had one school shirt,” he recalled.

At times, he and his sisters and cousins had to eat tapioca all the time as they waited for the rice harvest.

He remembers his younger cousin getting food poisoning because of eating too much tapioca, their only staple back then.

There were usually some laughter and gaiety in their recollections of playing ‘beauty queen’ and ‘video clip shooting’ in the padi fields. Hindustani
movies came to mind at such moments.

“The hardships gave me the determination to succeed. I made sure I wouldn’t have to go through them again — the hunger and heartache. So I studied hard. I also wanted to achieve my childhood dream of directing a video shoot or a movie.

“Besides, I want to be able to give my mother a good place to live in future,” he said, adding that he is now working towards his master’s degree.

Paul will be stationed in KL for a while yet, but hopes to return to Sabah one day and share his know-how.

He wants to make movies and hopes the people in the industry will back him up.

Paul may not have gone from rags to riches yet but success is within his reach — and it’s all coming together through his hard work and determination.