Sarawak-born performer Raziman Sarbini wants to show the world the beauty of Malaysian traditional dances

If you haven’t yet heard of the name Raziman Sarbini, now’s the time to take note.

This talented young man is about to take American dance by storm, and he is doing it his way.

The 26-year-old – the youngest of eight children – left his birthplace Limbang, Sarawak for the United States a year ago. He is the recipient of a scholarship from Yayasan Sarawak Tunku Abdul Rahman, pursuing a Masters in Fine Arts (for three years) at the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Perhaps it was serendipity that Raziman would end up in the United States; after all, it was an American competition series that first sparked his interest in dance.

“When I was 18, I watched So You Think You Can Dance and I was blown away by the contestants’ ability. They were doing crazy movements that I didn’t even think was possible for humans. I was like ‘Woah, I want to do this!’

“Since many of these movements were very athletic, I was attracted to the physicality of it, and the ability to produce or portray emotion,” says Raziman, who was an athlete in school and enjoyed sports.

At the relatively late age of 19, he dove headfirst into the world of dance. He went for an audition at the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (Aswara) in Kuala Lumpur, and was accepted. He completed his studies at Aswara on the Dean’s List and was awarded the Best Dance Graduate in 2015.

Since then, as a principal dancer with Malaysia’s ASK Dance Company, Raziman has performed in several countries. So far, he has participated in the Maybank Performance in London, the Yokohama Dance Collection in Japan and the Shantanand Festival in India.

In July 2018, he held a two-day mixed bill performance at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre in KL. Titled No. 7, the production aimed to be a fundraiser to cover some of Raziman’s expenses in New York.

Speaking of which, Raziman is clearly thriving in the Big Apple, though he is candid about the challenges.

“The lifestyle there is so different, and it’s so competitive. I have to compete with people who started dancing when they were just three or five years old, whereas I am considered a latecomer as I started at 19,” laments Raziman.

However, he is undeterred. “I am proud of the fact that I am from Sarawak, Malaysia, and I want to show the world that we are abundant in traditional and cultural dances.

“Not only do I know contemporary dance and salsa, I k

now how to perform different genres of Malay traditional dances, thanks to my training at Aswara. That is my ‘weapon’ as a dancer in New York,” says Raziman, whose other passion is cooking. (“I think I’m a good chef; I can cook anything!”)

In July, Raziman was invited back to Sarawak for the opening showcase of Rainforest Fringe Festival (RFF) in Kuching. “I felt so excited and honoured when I received the invitation from Joe Sidek of RFF,” enthuses Raziman.

“Joe wanted me to perform a dance that reflected my career thus far. I have been dancing for seven years, and it’s been an incredible, challenging journey. I also wanted to do something very traditional, which harked back to my roots. What I ended up doing on stage was improvisational.”

The response to Raziman’s performance was fantastic, according to Joe, who is the festival director of RFF.

“He won over the audiences with his solo dance,” raves Joe. “I am impressed by his talent but more so, I like his personality; he is so humble about his background. I definitely see a bright future ahead for Raziman.”

After RFF, Raziman graced Kelantan: A Living Heritage, the opening showcase of George Town Festival in Penang in August. At this event, Raziman performed Dikir which featured a strong political message. An abstraction of the traditional folk dance theatre of Kelantan, it explored the theme of power and has previously been presented in international festivals.

“I truly believe that a performance is all about sharing. It is about giving and telling stories, or conveying your emotions,” muses Raziman, whose ultimate dream is to work with professional dance companies such as BalletBoyz in Britain or Nederlands Dans Theatre in the Netherlands.

He also reveals that he might just audition for So You Think You Can Dance next year, the show that started it all for him.

Indeed, the sky’s the limit for this talented young man, whose noble ambition includes giving back to his home state. “I am grateful for the scholarship I got from the government, and I want to give back to the people.

“At the end of the day, I hope to return to Sarawak and establish a world-class company. I want to train dancers who can go out there to show our culture, to show that Sarawak dancers are multi-talented.”

From the dense jungles of Sarawak to the concrete jungle that is New York City, Raziman has certainly charted an interesting journey as a dancer and choreographer.

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