Exclusive Interview with Datuk Ramli Ibrahim

Shree Datuk Ramli Ibrahim is a name that stands tall amongst the finest artists in the field of dance ranging from Konark and Khajuraho to Paris and New York. Acknowledged as “Living Heritage” and “Living Treasure” from the Government of Malaysia and UNESCO respectively, it is his unique definition of art and culture that sets him apart from the crowd.

So, Shree Ramli Ji, you are a Malaysian national and you had training in ballet and modern forms of dance, Why did you choose Odissi as your dance form?

I had a very eclectic training in dance. I started as a traditional Malay dancer and then, I also went into ballet dancing while actually having formal training in ballet with a company in Australia but simultaneously I started Bharatnatyam. But in the 70’s I heard a recording of Pandit Raghunath and somehow the music touched the core of me and later, I saw the Odissi dance. It’s a lyrical dance and it has a balance of what I call, the Apollonian and Dionysian aspect. So, it’s not just an intellectual dance, like say Bharatnatyam, but it also has that part which has a divine aspect of madness in it.

Art has different meanings for different people across the globe. What according to you is art?

Art is a subset of culture and culture is a way of life. It’s like a big country; food is culture, dressing is culture and how we live is a culture. But art is a heightened state… It could be cooking, painting, literature but the thing about art is that it is something so intense that it lifts us from the mundanity of our everyday life to something special. We’re engaged in a realm that celebrates the divinity of being a human.

How do see the life of an individual without the essence of the art of any kind?

Art is a process of us being civilized and when we do so, our sensitivities become accentuated and we feel more sensitized to things around us like environment, and tiny details of life to make us feel better as humans. Art is not true for someone who is not a ‘Rasika’, who is not able to get the subtlety of being human. Ultimately, his life is barren.

You are in your 60s, yet you don’t seem like one. How have you kept yourself so young and fit and devoted to dance?

People think that dance is a glorious thing but on the other side, it is extremely disciplined. I start my mornings with yoga, then I take fruits and coffee! I must have coffee! I love gardening and taking my dog to a walk. And then, I start my day. I do a lot of administrative jobs for my companies, so to speak. I run my own foundation in Kuala Lumpur. Then, in the evenings I teach dancing and I do it 7 days a week. My life is centered around dance. If it’s not it, then I go to see performances, or I spend my time reading. I never watch television, so you can say my routine is highly driven. But I’ve my relaxation time with animals while being surrounded by pets like dogs, cats, and fish. I just resonate with them!

How do you explain your journey of life from your childhood till this time and what do you suggest for aspiring dancers of today?

You know, things happen and your journey keeps in going. It’s a massacre to realize that time and age is a concern for an adult. I’m so privileged to be still dancing, and that’s quite vigorous too. Not just concentrating on the expression side of it, I also dance with my younger counterparts. But I feel like I don’t reflect too much as to what people think of my life and my journey because I just keep going forward. So, you know, time is short and that’s the essence of it. But it’s a killer too! That’s why you have to keep fighting with it as if you are flowing. So, you just go with the flow as in a journey. I can’t just sit back and reflect as to what I’ve achieved or what I’ve done because we just keep on going to the next destination.

Yetesh Sharma