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KL's SoHo with Yeoh

   
YEOH: Hopes to see a profound growth in the performing arts sector with the establishment of PentasSeni KL.

New Straits Times (Life & Times), 30 June 2004

Entrepreneur and businessman Tan Sri Francis Yeoh nurses big dreams for the promotion and development of the arts in Malaysia. HAFIDAH SAMAT writes.

IT bothers Tan Sri Francis Yeoh that as the country makes material progress and becomes an economic oasis, it could also end up a cultural desert. That's why the 40-something managing director of YTL Corporation Bhd, an admired figure in the construction industry, hospitality trade and the power generation sector, among others, is equally concerned with the development of the performing arts in the country.

This has prompted the man to support the culture and the arts scene in Malaysia aggressively.

Yeoh's current crusade is to put Kuala Lumpur on the world map, no less, to make it famed for having a rich diversity in the arts. This will be seen via the soon-to-be-completed Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC), also known as PentasSeni KL. The Sentul West-located centre will be dedicated to the performing arts community in the country. (Sentul West is part of YTL Land's 119ha re-development of the Sentul area in KL. Besides exclusive residences, there will also be offices and shops built alongside the borders of a private park.)

"YTL has been consistent in giving back to the society and we have just embarked on another journey of thanksgiving," says Yeoh, in a recent interview at the YTL headquarters in KL.

"It's our way of saying thanks to society for their support - it's the right thing to do. PentasSeni KL is a community project and it belongs to Kuala Lumpur and its folks. But I'm not alone as I have people who are passionate about the arts to support me in making this happen," he adds, modestly.

You can well believe that Yeoh is seriously committed to his visions.

His track record speaks volumes. As recent as 10 years ago, YTL had already embarked on Yeoh's mission by sponsoring and organising huge concerts, inviting performers such as the world-renowned tenor Luciano Pavarotti. The company has also been the financial patron of the Kuala Lumpur Symphony Orchestra.

The annual YTL-Penang Arts Festival is a much sought-after event and provides local and international acts with opportunities to showcase, and hone, their talents. Last August, YTL staged the YTL Concert Celebration 2003, an open-air concert to commemorate the restored Bath spa at the Royal Crescent in Bath, Britain. The show featured the three famous tenors - Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Pavarotti. They performed before a 50,000-odd strong crowd.

Now with PentasSeni KL comes what Yeoh refers to as "an incredible convergence of passion" between YTL, non-governmental organisation Yayasan Budi Penyayang Malaysia, and theatre company The Actors Studio. They share a common love to nurture the arts and believe it will help foster unity.

"It (the centre) will be a cultural icon. KL needs it, the community deserves it," he said, smiling.

Indeed, Yeoh is optimistic. Sentul West, it is hoped, will be to Kuala Lumpur what SoHo is to New York, and the West End to London. "Every civilised city has its landmark like New York City's Central Park and London's Hyde Park. When we look at Sentul West, we see the colours and vibrancy of Malaysia. We want to claim this beautiful piece of land and transform it into a haven for art lovers," he said.

"Sentul has a bad image and we intend to change this perception."

PentasSeni KL will act as an inter-disciplinary artists' community and an arts education facility. It will dedicate itself to promoting artistic excellence, provide talented artistes work opportunities, and collaborate with some of the country's and the world's best in the fields of composition, as well as the visual, literary and performing arts.

Established as a non-profit organisation, the centre will also serve as a pre-eminent resource place for the acting profession, providing quality training for those hoping to refine their craft, extend their potential and explore new ideas.

Its philosophy is freedom to experiment. Training and development should co-exist and overlap with the creation of new works. It is a mission that derives its purpose from those it is attempting to serve.

Yeoh believes firmly in the benefits of an arts education.

"People have a tendency to stereotype the medium as a luxury, as an addendum to the so-called ‘core' curriculum. But beyond exposing youngsters to the value and the beauty of the arts, past and present, how can we discover, nurture and train artistes of the future? The arts stay with us our entire lives, helping to shape the talents in whatever vocation one might choose."

He believes that as PentasSeni KL's financial position improves, dependence on corporate funds will decline. The centre will be required to re-define its priorities in an increasingly independent environment.

"PentasSeni KL must be about excellence on the main stage," he declares.


   
STATE OF THE ART: Artist's impression of the proscenium theatre.

"We must provide performances that are as good as the world's best. If we stand for excellence of international quality and nurture young talents, I believe we are on the right track.

"By bringing international artistes to the centre, people will have access to the greatest works around the world. That's a really exciting possibility, not just for our community, but for the whole of Malaysia.

"It is going to be exciting," says Yeoh. "People based at PentasSeni KL will be those who are phenomenally committed and buzzing with ideas in all areas of the organisation. Like Joe Hasham and Faridah Merican, they have a whole plethora of ideas for the venue and I really admire and value what they have to contribute."

Faridah, artistic director of The Actors Studio, says that "YTL has entrusted The Actors Studio to run PentasSeni and we have our roles to play. TAS will proceed to do what we do best."

PentasSeni KL covers over 6,510 sq metres. The design is a fusion of the old and new. The unique 100-year-old mellowed brick facade - it used to be a Keretapi Tanah Melayu warehouse - has been retained, and a modern four-storey glass-and-steel structure has been fitted in.

Flanked by a private gated park, the wide avenues and the natural surroundings offer an ideal ambience for connoisseurs of the arts. The facilities include a 500-seater proscenium theatre with state-of-the-art acoustics, a 200-seater experimental theatre with interchangeable settings, a performing arts academy to house young and independent filmmakers, 10 studios and a resource centre.

It also fills a need for a cultural multiplex for people living on the eastern fringes of the city. "My attempt is very relevant to human souls. Music and arts transcend race and culture. They are powerful tools for human integration. Why should we discourage and deny access to the artistic people out there. The door to PentasSeni KL is open to them," he says.

Scheduled for opening at the end of the year, the head of Penyayang, Datin Seri Endon Mahmood, will be the patron of the cultural complex.

"With the continuous support we're getting, I'm sure the development of our cultural heritage and the arts will be given that extra impetus and focus," says Yeoh.

* The writer can be contacted at fida@nstp.com.my




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