Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Magic In A Can of Paint

Everyday life inspires colour trends. But to own a colour, you have to build a relationship with it first.

ASTOUNDING as it may seem, blacks and whites will be the latest colour trend for 2012. It is a prediction that makes even Heleen Van Gent, head of Akzo Nobel, a global paints and coatings company which produces Dulux, smile in disbelief.

“If I told my grandma that I was going to paint my room black, she would say, ‘Child, you can’t do that!’” says the 48-year-old mother of three, with a laugh.

Agreed that we have been raised to associate colour with symbolic meanings, but Van Gent reveals that everyone has an adventurous streak when it comes to colour. She recalls a presentation she did in China some time ago.

Heleen Van Gen says colours and world events go hand in hand, and each era has a signature shade.

Thinking that the Chinese would fall for reds, she presented a colour palette in the auspicious shade, anticipating that it would hit home. However, they were more interested in what was in fashion at that time!

But Van Gent assures that it will not be all grim and gloomy next season, where wall colours are concerned. Knowing the Asian mindset, the trend will definitely take on a more vibrant character.

As for colour predictions, what’s going to be in is not the result of crystal ball-gazing or a matter decreed by a select few. Although she has a panel of architects, professors and interior designers from around the globe presenting their findings, the decision on a season’s favourite colour ultimately stems from the man in the street.

It is everyday life that inspires designers and stylists, who in turn present their ideas in fashion magazines and design books, she explains. It is from here that the sprouts of a season’s trend will take root and spread. And colour, being such an integral component in our lives, will naturally find a place for itself.

Colour, Van Gent adds, is not just a shade on a pallete. It is life itself. Colours and world events go hand in hand. One example is the Go Green movement, which aims to raise environmental awareness, and the Think Pink campaign for breast cancer awareness. People also “see red” and “turn blue” in the face.

Each era also has its signature shade. In the 80s, there were neons. The 90s was dominated by earth colours, while metalics heralded the millennium.

Van Gent grew up in the 60s, when orange was the colour of the era; she remembers vividly receiving an orange table lamp.

But the colour that has had the most influence in her life, however, is the classical shade of dark blue found on jeans and sweaters worn by schoolgirls, with white shirts to match.

“I liked the colour scheme so much that I used it in my house,” she says.

For an inkling of how the black and white trend may be translated in Asia, we take a hint from Van Gent’s own home.

She brightens up her rooms with keelims, handwoven Indian rugs made by people who use colour instinctively. For example, a weaver may suddenly run out of thread. If the same colour thread is not available, she might just continue weaving with that of another shade. The result is an exciting and unexpected feel to the whole piece. Against the backdrop of black walls, the effect is stunning.

But no one should be a slave to trends, she adds. It is the onus of the homeowner to experiment and do a bit of soul-searching on what shade her walls should sport.

“My house is like a paint laboratory. If you touch the walls, you can feel that they’re soft because there are so many layers of paint underneath.” Well, Van Gent has painted her house no less than six times in two years.

This, she says, allows her to see how a colour will look like in real life. Take, for example, the Celestial Sun shade in the Dulux range. On the swatch, it is almost white. But once it’s on a wall, the brightness of this yellow is almost dazzling. Interestingly, instead of having a blinding effect, the colour is neutralised by surrounding elements.

“Yellow is like a prehistoric colour. It is found in nature in plants and greens. It is present in antiques and you’ll be surprised how this colour can really work in a roomful of classical furniture,” she enthuses.

For this colour expert, there is magic in a can of paint. An old grey building can be given new life with a fresh coat of colour – not necessarily yellow, of course. In a community project that Van Gent took part in to revive the surroundings of an economically-challenged area in the British Isles, the change in the children’s behaviour was apparent when their old school yard was repainted.

“It still gives me the goosebumps when I think of it. The children came to their newly repainted school and were so happy to see the transformation that they started jumping and running,” she recalls.

Closer to home, a can of paint is certainly cheaper than renovation work, and easier to use, provided one has the right tools and know-how. Van Gent recalls that her husband repainted their bedroom red in one night.

However, the first step is to build a relationship with colour.

If you need help on the best way to get acquainted with or how to “own” your own favourite shade, check out, a charity website launched by Dulux to raise money for Unicef. Roger Moore, the actor who shot to fame as Ian Fleming’s James Bond, is the spokesperson for the charity.

Peaceful Parents Joyful Juniors

Seeking peaceful resolution to problems

For the workshop, communication is the first to be emphasised.


At the recent preview of a workshop with the enticing title, Peaceful Parents, Joyful Juniors, my boys, aged eight and four, got into a fight. It did not take long before the younger fella’s bawls turned the cosy room into a giant pressure cooker. At that moment I had the urge to give both a tight slap.

But wait, wasn’t I in a room with two experts? Now’s the time to find out if this programme is effective or quixotic, I thought.

“Take a deep breath,” advises Jin Yap and Carly Nair, the workshop facilitators.

I do. As I exhale the four-year-old extends his hand and asks Mummy to kiss the pain away. His brother unmasks the real perpetrator by showing me the fresh scratch marks on his arm. By the time both have had their say, the anger has evaporated. No slap equals no tears, and no more outbursts equals a happier mum.

Call it a little sample of what to expect at Nair and Yap’s workshop.

Nair, 29, who hails from Scotland, is a hypnotherapist. A mother to three-year-old twins, Nair was inspired by her school guidance counsellor back in Aberdeenshire to pursue a career in wellness.

Twenty-six-year-old Yap has eight years’ experience as a counsellor. At 18, he went to Dehyana Lee, a life coach specialising in addiction and breath work, to undergo a 12-step recovery programme. In addition to breath work, Yap also practises art therapy.

Both Yap and Nair advocate NLP (neurolinguistic programming) and EFT (emotional freedom techniques). In a nutshell, NLP teaches people how to build rapport and trust by active listening; EFT is a way of soothing energy disruption by tapping on the energy meridians to remove negative thinking and beliefs.

These, in addition to art and colour therapy, are the tools used in Nair and Yap’s workshop.

Yap and Nair use EFT and NLP to help children and parents understand the emotional aspects of a relationship better.

But back to my boxing champs, do I let it go? What if I do, will it mean that I am condoning physical violence?

“We don’t have all the answers. No doubt parenting is a challenging and exhausting task and that’s why we think that parents are heroes,” laughs Yap.

Truthfully, they state that their workshop on peaceful parenting does not come with guarantees. Instead, the aim of the day-long session, which involves parent-and-child (between ages seven and 12) participation, is focused on communication methods and exploring parent and child emotions.

There will be activities designed to understand the power of verbal and non-verbal communication, and parent and child will be taught how to use visualisation, a technique to create images in the mind for better confidence and performance. At the end of it, it is up to the parents to practise these methods with their children.

“The catchword here is active listening. The same way you listen to a business prospect is the way you should listen to a child. Don’t just focus on the words but read the body language too. It’s also about putting emotions into your daily communication with the children,” explains Nair.

But having started the programme two-and-a-half years ago under the banner of Rainbow Children, surely they would have something to share, I push on. What can a parent do on days when tantrums and patience are in opposition?

Nair suggests self-reflection.

“Ask why this is grating on you. Is it the noise that bothers you? Why? Are you irritated because you are tired? Or are you unhappy with your husband for not taking out the trash? Many times, parents take out their frustrations on their children,” says Nair.

Going deeper, she adds that parents are the ones with issues, not the child. Say, when a child makes noise, why is there a need to shush him up? Is he doing anything wrong? Or when you are in a family restaurant and your child does that, and a diner gives the kid the evil eye. In telling the child to keep quiet, you are actually trying to please the other person who has made you uncomfortable, she points out.

If it’s a lesson in consideration that you’re trying to drive home, explain why. Make it clear that the digestion process works best in a calm and soothing atmosphere. Explain that whooping noises do not contribute to sereneness.

Still, keeping junior happy does not mean an end to rules and conduct but instead of resorting to authoritarian methods, one can impart lessons in a fun way.

“Say, if you are in a library, you can engage a child in a little contest of who can talk more softly, for example, instead of going ‘sshhhsshhhsshhh’ all the time,” says Nair.

And Yap is all for sparing the rod. “Resorting to caning or adopting the ‘My Way Or The Highway’ stand is very damaging. A lot of social ills and problems come from there,” he notes.

He also reminds parents to lead by example.

“If parents want to have children who are sharp in following their own dreams, but they are not doing the same with theirs, then how can they expect their child to do so?” he asks, adding that his experience as a counsellor shows that children mirror their parents’ actions.

In an earlier workshop, Yap separated the children and parents in two different groups where they were asked to act out a tantrum.

It turned out that the children’s actions were identical to their parents’!

This means that it will be pointless to tell a child not to fight when the parents are constantly arguing or to expect them not to swear when every single sentence a parent utters is filled with expletives.

Yap also points out that when parents complain that their children have to be told a hundred times to brush their teeth, maybe it’s because the very basic practice of listening to each other is not carried out among the adults in the family.

For Yap and Nair, having happy children is largely dependent on the atmosphere at the home front. As such, the first step towards peaceful parenting is to take on a positive stand. This means ensuring that only practices which are in line with what is good and right are observed among the adults. That will pave the way for junior to have a joyful and meaningful childhood.

The Peaceful Parents, Joyful Juniors Workshop takes place next month at B2-05-03 Bukit Utama Condo 1, Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. For details and to register call (010) 277-2950 / (03) 7713-2091 or e-mail

Emotion-filled performances at fest

THE Collision Arts Asia Festival which took place at Publika in Solaris Dutamas recently also featured a 72-hour creation challenge for the artistic community to see if they can muster up a show within three days.

In an effort to raise money for underprivileged children in Cambo-dia, artistes from all walks of genres banded together to perform for free in a two-hour show which ended with a spectacular aerial and fire show from Viva Circus and Psycusix.

Spins: Hula hoop fire trick from Psycusix.

Opening the act was Hilton Lee, a male belly dancer who admitted that he had spent more time on his costume than worrying about rehearsals.

With six years of experience in his hips, Lee gave the ancient art of seduction a tribal fusion feel with his wicked gyrations.

Making a special appearance was Michelle Chang of Sutra Dance Theatre who showed her support for the arts by joining forces with four new dancers to present a whimsical piece on a love triangle.

From Olah Karma of KupuKupu Arts and Events, comes a haunting tale of infanticide told through dance. Titled Komulo Nimbus, it is a story of an insane young mother who murders her babies. But instead of being vengeful, the souls of her twin sons take pity in their mother’s suffering and refuse to go to heaven until she is healed.

Why so serious?: A dancer in Komulo Nimbus immerses himself among the audience and earns a candid camera moment with this playful fan.

This sad piece saw an unexpected lift when a member of the audience took the chance to snap a picture of himself with one of the twins midway through the show. Much to the dancer’s credit, he maintained a straight face.

Olah, who is the head of the AH! Project, which aims to raise awareness on social problems through the arts, is famed for his thought-provoking pieces.

His last performance, Medula Oblongata, at the Short and Sweet event at KLPac was about the story of how six glue sniffers came clean.

Rising from the dead to breathe life into the show was Reizo Zen, who has been impersonating Michael Jackson for the last 20 years.

Zen had started life as a clown before developing an interest in mime and later, impersonation.

A cry: An Iranian student dances the part of the insane mother in Olah Karma’s Komulo Nimbus.

Fans of MJ can reconnect with the Gloved One through Zen in Facebook.

As this was a charity show, Mr Banana, a clown from Canada, also did his bit to drum up donations by passing his hat around.

Unperturbed by the lukewarm response, he pleaded with one generous member of the audience who was watching the show at the upper floor to take out his wallet and throw him RM10. To watch more of Mr Banana’s antics, catch him on

Closing the Collision Arts Festival was Viva Circus who performed a series of pole dances and aerial stunts.

At one point, hearts almost came to a stop when an aerialist went into a free fall only to be stopped at the last minute by a series of clever knots she had made in the folds of hanging silk.

Credit also goes to Psycusix, who had the crowd moving back to ensure that they would not be razed by the flames of their fire show extravaganza.

To warm up, they showed off their arsenal of tricks which included contact juggling, poi and wand levitation.

Viva Circus began humbly as a pole dancing outfit four years ago. Over time, Vivian Lea, the founder, expanded the group’s show repertoire to include aerial artistes and give budding local acrobats a platform to show off their talents.

Fantastic Faun

A lithesome dancer commands the stage as a frolicsome forest creature.

WHEN L’apres Midi D’un Faune (The Afternoon Of A Faun) was staged in 1912, famed premièr danseur Vaslav Nijinsky nearly caused a riot. The editor of France’s venerable Le Figaro newspaper started a campaign against the ballet, calling it shameless and deeming Nijinsky’s choreography “too expressive”. Thanks to the furore, the dance was only performed another few years before it was shelved.

It was revived in the 1980s by two dance notation specialists who reconstructed it from Nijinsky’s notebooks and photographs taken shortly after that first performance. Since then, the piece has been performed by the great Rudolf Nureyev and later elements of it were used by Queen’s Freddie Mercury for the band’s I Want To Break Free music video in 1984. Coincidentally, it was in that same year that Ramli Ibrahim would perform his own version of the frisky, uninhibited faun in Malaysia when he returned from studying dance abroad and established the Sutra Dance Theatre.

And recently, Ramli reprised the choreography for Sean Scantlebury of New York’s Battery Dance Company.

Animal behaviour: Sean Scantlebury as the faun in Ramli’s choreography of L’apres Midi D’un Faune. — Photos by GRACE CHEN

This intriguing performance had its start in January, when the American troupe – working with the UNCHR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), Aswara (National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage) and Sutra – held dance workshops for refugee children. The workshops were part of the Battery Dance Company’s Dancing to Connect programme, which exposes children from low income families to the arts.

The lithesome Scantlebury, 31, had been a visual treat on stage, and a bulb must have come on in Ramli’s head after the lights had dimmed at the Aswara auditorium in Kuala Lumpur back then....

So, did Ramli’s contemporary version of L’apres Midi D’un Faune cause a scandalous sensation at the DBKL Auditorium on Sept 22? Well, suffice to say that, though one could have heard a pin drop, there were no gasps of outrage. Today’s dance audiences are obviously well acquainted with the animal kingdom and animalistic movements, thanks no doubt to National Geographic and the Discovery Channel....

As the titular faun, Scantlebury was simply amazing, and not just because he managed to effect a sort of crazy calm while kicking his heels in the air, an action that may have made a less competent dancer look silly. It was his ability to appear masculine as he placed his palms together to endearingly rest his cheek on them. It was his underlying energy that commanded every eye. It was how he made Sutra dancer Divya Nair float like a feather when they danced together.

Of course, the stage was not Scantlebury’s alone to conquer, and there were three other performances in the Into The Center production that night.

In Karma, which featured actor Sandra Sodhy as Mistress Maya with Ramli and Sutra dancer Guna as her servants in the illusory web of Time and Death, it was the constant rasp of Valerie Ross’s musical score that set a rather unfortunate mood. A member of the audience remarked that the performance felt more like a tribute to a mosquito god. And thanks to her menacing presence, Sodhy too came across as a human-sized insect. Others thought the piece too much of a mish mash of classical Indian dance, ballet and contemporary dance.

The ‘faun’ with Divya Nair who becomes the object of his affection.

But the piece did tug at the heart strings when we saw how seamlessly Ramli and Guna came together despite their age differences.

Those who have followed the growth of Sutra from the days when it was an open-air ashram in Brickfields, KL, would know that Guna joined Sutra in 1989 at the age of 26 and is now Ramli’s right-hand man. What both have gone through to withstand the test of time revealed itself in this piece – and the moment when Guna lifted Ramli in his arms and spun the senior dancer took on a metaphoric significance.

Finally, we came to Layapriya, choreographed by Jonathan Hollander, the head of the Battery Dance Company, using a musical score from Finish composer Eero Hameenniemi.

The conventional practice has always been, fast tempo equals swift movement but Hollander seems to have broken this traditional rule. The 60-year-old choreographer would not only apply this to Layapriya but to another vignette for Into The Center, when Ramli moved like a snail despite the ascending tempo of tabla beats in the background.

When the same treatment was seen in Layapriya, there was a brief moment when this writer wondered if they were playing the wrong music. When the tempo rocked, the dancers glided. When there was the anticipation that the pace would finally pick up and move on, things still remained in slow motion.

What gives, we wondered at first. Then we recalled what the MC had said at the beginning of the show: Take a deep breath and relax. And that, in turn, reminded us of the snail.

A few days earlier, we had observed a snail in Ramli’s garden. Content in a pot and oblivious to the snarling 6pm traffic just outside his gate, the snail was rippling leisurely across a leaf no bigger than a palm, leaving a shiny coat of slime in its wake.

There were two ways of regarding the snail: As a pesky critter out to destroy or as a potential idea for a National Geographic documentary entitled Lessons On Taking Your Own Time, Starring The Snail. If one was of the second school of thought, one would have appreciated Layapriya and learned a lesson from it: Command your surroundings, don’t let them overwhelm you.