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Elephant Balls

Updated: Apr 28

I rearranged the continuation of my trip throughout the archipelago in order to stay a few more days in Jakarta and attend to a very special performance at The Komunitas Salihara. I have been there for the opening ceremony of their festival when Mr. Didik premiered his latest creation and trusted their choices for the program.


Dirada Meta, which literally means “elephants gone amok”, has been recreated from stored notations forgotten for 100 years in the archives of the Mangkunegraran Palace in Surakarta. It is based on the dramatic historical episode of a battle in the region of Rembang, northern Central Java in 1756. Although inspired in that violent episode in history when 15 soldiers of Prince Sambernyawa were killed, the seven male dancers do not display fight scenes. According to Daryono S.Kar M.Hum, the choreographer of this recreated version of the dance, it is more “an expression of a sense of loss”.


Besides all that, the main reason that has made me change my flight and remain in Jakarta a few more days is that I’d overheard that the movement material of this performance is rather “feminine and delicate” considering that it is carried by seven male dancers. I then thought: Gender! Having seen the piece, one might argue that there’s indeed no better way of feeling such ‘a sense of loss’ than to be hypnotized by seven traditional male Indonesian dancers moving in such a slow pace to the sound of gamelan. Beyond wondering if I could ever look like that in my cross-gender dance classes back in Yogyakarta, I caught myself contemplating over the connection between loss, delicacy and femininity. It all certainly comes out strongly and impresses even more through the presence of the well-built male dancers. Maybe there was indeed no need to mention on the program that male dancers would be moving differently than usually seen in Traditional Indonesian Dance. It is just probably that we don’t commonly associate loss and delicacy to someone with balls. But it definitely takes a lot of balls to represent and express all that in such a felt way. Watching this performance doesn’t leave a way out of the realization that those sensations are inherent to and transcends all of us. The experience of this particular presence has confirmed to me the idea expressed by Kate Bornstein that gender doesn’t belong anywhere but to the realm of fiction.

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