The Young, the Weightless, the Joyous
The Indonesian Dance Festival was held online, showcasing young choreographers. The event invited ordinary people to dance along during the opening. But the message that dance can help heal during the pandemic, was not exactly delivered.
THEIR names were unrecognized in Indonesia’s modern contemporary dance scene: Cahya Maulidian (Kendal, Central Java), Thoriq (Pasuruan, East Java), Echa (Samarinda, East Kalimantan), Miftanul Jannah (Banyuwangi, East Java), Grasak Grusuk Group (Solo, Central Java), Lidya (Ngawi, East Java), Irma Septiana (Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara) among many others. There were 33 names in total, and not all of them were dancers, some were teachers, students, psychologists, studio managers, and dentists. These unlikely dancers participated in a dance routine by Eun Me Ahn, a South Korean choreographer. The dance was to be the opening for the Indonesian Dance Festival (IDF) 2020, titled 1.59 signifying the time each dancer had to perform the routine.
It was apparent, however, that the dancers were inexperienced, and struggled to perform as a choreography. Some dancers were more akin to a TikTok or Youtube self-recorded video. The camera angles were lacking in aesthetics. But why did not Ahn give the dancers 1, 2, or 3 minutes? According to Ahn, 1 minute and 59 seconds is the average time a person watches a video online before watching the next video. That small increment of time is enough to convey their deepest emotions and share a message or an issue that is important to them.
In reality, when the choreography was performed to the public in 1 minute 59 seconds, the message and issues were unclear. “This is IDF pandemic edition. (The event) invited people from all backgrounds to dance together. In order to maintain a positive outlook during the pandemic. Ahn opened the event to everyone in the public, from ages 15 to 75,” said Maria Darmaningsih, the founder and organizer of 2020 IDF.
Eun Me Ahn initially chose 60 participants. After going through six workshops, the number of participants was dropped to 33. Apparently, during the workshop, Ahn directed but gave creative freedom to the participants to create a choreography without her getting too involved. Because of that it is more apt to consider Ahn as curator or instructor, instead of the sole choreographer. She is an instructor who encouraged the dancers to show that anyone can create a dance of their own. This was apparent in how the dancers happily danced in their homes, gardens and even in the streets. “In this year’s IDF, dancing is a road that leads to healing,” said Maria.
Hari Ghulur in Sila. IDF Doc.
Based on these curatorial concepts, we understand the reason why IDF chose the Gymnastik Emporium group as their headliner. The group consists of a young community that creates freestyle dances based on physical fitness exercise or Senam Kesegaran Jasmani (SKJ). In 1984, during the New Order period, the Ministry of Youth and Sports issued a policy that taught an exercise routine called SKJ to the public. People would exercise every Friday morning in parks or other open spaces. SKJ itself was a continuation of Senam Pagi Indonesia (Indonesian Morning Exercise) which in the 70s was compulsory for school children. The composer Nortier Simanungkalit created the 1984 SKJ accompaniment song, while the song SKJ 1988 was composed by Januar Ishak.
The Gymnastik Emporium renewed the SKJ routine in their performance, but this time it was called the Physical Diversity Exercise or Senam Keragaman Jasmani, and performed by gym teachers. Each performer told their story about the New Order exercise routine, and added their own twist to routine. One dancer recalled how they were in a dance competition at the time, while some others claim that they have only recently realized that the exercise during the New Order era was part of the politics of the state, how through gymnastics the public body is molded into a state body. The performers also recalled about the discourse on clean environments at the time and a discriminatory attitude towards foreign exercises like Tai Chi Chuan and Wai Tan Kung. But we must see this Foucaultian statement cautiously due to the flourishing meditation groups and associations at the time, both Buddhist and Javanese.
A better choice for the headliner would have been Hari Ghulur, a choreographer from Madura, East Java. Ghulur is known to often perform choreography with lower body techniques, dancing close to the floor. In Salihara, Jakarta, (later in Brussels, Belgium) he once danced by rolling on the floor and dropping himself on a tin sheet to make noise.
Ghulur performed from Balai Pemuda, in Surabaya, East Java, presenting an older work titled Sila that was featured in the International Choreographers Residency at the American Dance Festival. Sila highlights Ghulur’s physical prowess, as he dances across the floor while in the full lotus position. Anyone who practices yoga or meditation would know that the full lotus is not an easy position to maintain or even do for some. However, Ghulur maintained the position for the whole duration of the performance and was even quite nimble, tumbling and hopping without releasing his legs. Ghulur limited the movements of his legs, or rather ceased their functions altogether, and focused on exploring the body from the knees to the tip of his hair.
As for Ayu Permata Sari, she performed her work titled Li Tu Tu at the yard of Hanafi Studio in Depok. West Java. Hanafi, a painter, arranged white hebel bricks into small platforms with a crescent-shaped wall. At the center of one of the platforms was a stack of two dozen plates, and a smaller stack of three plates placed on the four corners of the platform. On the smaller stacks of plates was a female dancer, walking slowly and deliberately around the platform, from one stack to the other, both hands stretched out. On one hand she balanced on her thumb a plate with a lit candle and the other hand, a tambourine. Within the walls, Ayu and Galib, who wore formal attire, passed plates to each other back and forth while facing each other closely while moving around the stage, both pairs of eyes locked in on each, tossing plates ad infinitum.
The choreography is simple and emphasized more on intensity and concentration. The performance itself was inspired by the hand movements of the Kuadai dance, that is, the plate tossing and plate balancing. In the original dance, dancers would balance small plates with a candle on them with their thumbs.
The dance itself is a tradition of the Semendo tribe from South Sumatra which is now one of the tribes in North Lampung. The dance signifies the first daughter in the family as a guardian and controller of the family’s assets as well as being a place to return home based on a tradition called Tunggu Tubang. Li Tu Tu was first staged in Yogyakarta in 2018 as a response to the small space artists had to showcase their work in the gallery with the audience circling the performer. Ayu’s second performance was held on the sidewalks of the famed Jalan Malioboro as well as in closed and open spaces at the ArtJog event. Her choreography was also shown at the Setouchi Triennale in Japan, and in Ayu’s hometown, performed for the Semendo community.
Gymnastik Emporium performing SKJ (Senam Keragaman Jasmani) 2020 featuring physical education teachers. IDF Doc.
Meanwhile, Kampana Trajectory, a dance project featuring six young choreographers, Eyi Lesar, Irfan Setiawan, Eka Wahyuni, Gege Diaz, Anis Harliani, and Puri Senja, told stories on the process of their bodies. Puri Senja told about the biography of her body. During her childhood, Puri Senja would be bound by her father in the bathroom. From then on, she was afraid of the dark and the narrow room. Puri demonstrated narrow room, darkness and bounded hand in her dance. In high school and afterwards, Puri said she was active as a cheerleader and often experienced sexual harassment. When she was a dancer, she realized that her ‘cheerleader body’ was dominating her character. Pentas Puri is a combination of monologue and motion. The monologue is sometimes more successful than the motion.
This time, IDF has the courage to present young choreographers, even ordinary people, on the main stage. It has been a hallmark of the IDF over the years to bring in more established choreographers. While some might think that the IDF lowered its aesthetic standards this year, amidst the pandemic, it managed to encourage people from all walks of life to stay positive and confident with dance. This year’s event would have been supported a webinar discussing themes of movement and healing. There was a webinar with a theme of resilience. But it will created more echo if the webinar talked about dance as healing with choreographers, meditators, yoga practitioners, to martial artists who might talk about the body, dance, and healing. This would better convey IDF’s message. But at least the festival managed to be inclusive, and involve not only professional dancers, but also cheerleaders, gym teachers and gymnastics instructors. Let’s get physical!