THERE is a universal joy in dance and other cultural artforms that is inherent in children. Children need the freedom and environment to explore, express and communicate their ideas at a young age. This process translates to high self-esteem and independent thinking among the young.

This was so well illustrated at Konsert Genius Seni "Seni Merentasi Zaman" held at Auditorium Perdana Angkasapuri, RTM earlier this month. It was apparent that among the brightest stars in our country are the young talent we have in cultural arts. Genius Seni, a structured educational programme by the Education Ministry, is managed by the National Arts and Culture Department (JKKN) and specially tailored for talented children who excel in the arts with emphasis on choir, music and dance.

The show opened with the aspirations of a child trying to understand our kaleidoscope of arts interwoven throughout the ages, reflecting our diverse people. The very essence of our culture is represented in the elegance and aesthetics of the Malay language, refined movement in dance and beautiful in expression.

In the opening act Gemilang Tanah Melayu "Dirgahayu Tuanku", the Genius Seni Koir showcased the harmonious blend of voices of the young singing timeless songs Suriram and a medley of Malay songs. It is uplifting and pure, ringing of hope and unity. The Genius Seni Koir illustrates the willingness to work in a group for the overall greater good. This training not only strengthens the children's vocal virtuosity, but they become the best promoters of unity as they sing side by side as they perform medleys of old folk songs and new favourites.

Dance is a platform a space that enables students to express themselves in a three dimensional realm that is captivating. Through dance, children can truly appreciate the contribution of all cultures to the fabric of our society and increase the understanding of diversity  in values, thinking and inspiration. Here, the Genius Seni Tari amplified this as it emphasised the importance of traditional dance at the highest level as well as contemporary dance.

Dance lends itself well to enhancing the children's skills of perception, concentration and especially the discipline so required to achieve perfection. While many may see the playful and entertainment aspects of dance, it is a vocation that requires great discipline since young. Young dancers often display a passion and focus for their art with a maturity that surpasses their peers. This comes from years of training, which is why it is essential to expose our children to dance at the youngest age possible, such as popular dances like "Sep Sep Tom Tom", "Nona Nona" and "Rentak Tandak".

The Genius performers were versatile, moving through the ages with dance routines ranging from traditional to rock to pop. Beautiful costumes enhanced the intricate dance movements of the Water Sleeves and Mere Tandoori dances. The medley of zapin and bharatanatyam interchanging was interesting to watch. My favourites were the dances steeped in classical form, of which particular favourites were the rendition of the Joget Si Pinang Muda, Kenangan Manis and Joget Pahang, which even got the conductor dancing the joget on stage!

The orchestra under the Genius Seni Music programme is a delight, especially watching its young prodigies take to stage. Make no mistake, while the performance looks effortless, fun and entertaining, the Genius programme is a culmination of many years of training and dedication. When 6-year-old Ooi Yen Hao performed Bach's Violin Concerto in A Minor, there was wonder in the air how this young violinist could achieve so much in the two years he took up the violin, winning a string of awards in Europe and Asia.

In fact, many performances featured in "Seni Merentasi Zaman" presented a showcase of award-winning performances by Genius Seni over the years, bringing fame to our country at the global level.

There's a place for all of us, says narrator Nik Nur Amalin Musauddin, herself a product of the Genius Seni programme. The 'Negaraku' finale was an emotional end to the show as the realisation that all that matters for these children is pure love for the country.

I have followed the work of JKKN in promoting the talents of our young since the early 2000s. May this continued dedication to our cultural arts be supported by all of us, from the corporate world to the relevant ministries for years to come to ensure we awaken the genius in our younger generation. May these beautiful voices, talent and musical virtuosity continue throughout all time bringing pride and fame to the nation through excellence in cultural artforms.

As a Malay saying goes: "benih yang baik dicampak ke darat menjadi gunung, dicampak ke laut menjadi pulau."

Let Malaysia be the "darat" and "laut" for these talent to develop their fullest potential.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times