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Sunrise Reflections at Borobudur

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

…It might just as well be a little of resentment. But it doesn’t impress me as much as I thought it would…

After a long ride back from Salatiga, where the Mata Air Festival took place, I certainly needed a rest. I had also attended to an outstanding performance of Mr. Didik at a hotel and felt I had had enough of creative insight for a couple of days. But I couldn’t resist the prospect of seeing Butoh living legend Min Tanaka perform at the sight of the Borobudur Temple at sunrise. The performance was going to be recorded as part of a documentary on the life and work of Min Tanaka. I hadn’t paid a visit to that tourist attraction yet so it all seemed perfect. Mr. Didik arranged for me to join the crew that was going to film the event. So, despite my fatigue, I packed once again, got on my motor scooter and made my way from Yogyakarta to Borobudur at 11.00 pm. Once I arrived at the overpriced hotel that holds the monopoly of sunrise visits to the temple, I was met by one of the crew members with the news that Min Tanaka would not like to have anyone he didn’t know watching the performance. Needless to say, I was more than disappointed. He said he was truly sorry and that, if I happened to be at the temple with the other tourists, I could probably take a look at it from a distance. I didn’t like the idea but I decided to check in, get a couple of hours of sleep and visit the temple anyway. The following is what I happened to sketch down on a piece of paper at the cloudy sunrise visit to the Borobudur Temple that morning.

It is indeed a joy to the eye. It’s beautiful. But one might reach Nirvana in this location as well as anywhere else. Honestly, Borobudur seems to be the did of some Empire trying to impress and prove how much it’s got on this world. I miss the true worship and homage to the Buddha. But who am I to say what is truthful or not? Nonetheless, do we really need all this in order to develop our knowledge and reach some sort of understanding of ourselves? Maybe coming here has made me realize something. I feel tempted here to extend the discussion of what is true or false, what is authentic or fake to the realm of Art. Since my main interest at this moment lies upon gender issues, I could go as far as to consider what is behind the idea of the ‘real man’ or the ‘real woman’.

… While I’m writing down these notes, at the very moment of this reflection on the paper, a flying-bug crosses my eyesight and calls my attention. I look up and become mesmerized by the cloud of bugs I see around me. One of them just bumped into my third-eye. There are so many of them! The vision fills my heart with joy and a smile builds up on my tired face. Wait, I just saw a couple of wings on the floor. Ah…they’re leaving their wings behind and starting to walk. Who would have thought of a being giving up its ability to fly? There’s more, once they’ve detached from their wings, they get together in couples. One sort of climbs on the top of the other and then they proceed on walking together. They all do the same. As soon as they find their companion, they let go of their wings. The cloud starts to subside. Very, very slowly…

So why should performing here be more of an ‘experience’ than performing in a black box, for example? OK, it can be a treat to the eye. But not much more. It’s just a location. Besides, performing arts has reached so far concerning dramaturgy these days. And why Butoh should be considered a more holistic art form than other ‘western’ expressions of theater?

…The wings, even after being left behind, still have a bit of life on their own. A pair of them has just made its way to the edge of a stone and fell down…

What is a real body-felt art? And what makes it more this or more that?

…The floor is becoming covered with fragile brown dead wings…

This event also inspires some reflection upon the idea of how religions claim their God(s) to be superior to their counterpart’s one(s). Hasn’t the Buddha himself said something like ‘find your own way’? Hasn’t the Christ said ‘there are many ways but they all lead to me’? I’m probably making and mixing up all this.

…I get distracted by the voice of a tourist guide giving a lecture to a whole bunch of white tourists. I look back and see Min Tanaka on the corner of my eye. He’s dancing. Just dancing. Just it. Ironically, he has to do it amidst a crowd of grumpy sleepy tourist children. Not only that: a distorted voice now and then comes out of old speakers…

I don’t resist my temptation and decide to get up. I love a good show.

…The cloud is almost gone…I wonder how much Min Tanaka is holding on to the ‘honesty’ and ‘reality’ of his performance among flashes of tourist cameras, tourist guides raising their voice against the wind, ‘watch your step’ and other sorts of information plaques, a group of new-age Buddhists encircling the temple singing mantras, and his crew with their many Japanese cameras. Everybody is making his or her show. He doesn’t seem to be disturbed – nor relate – to none of these elements. What a show! I wonder how they’ll be able to edit the video in order to portray Min Tanaka against a background of old inscribed stones…

After a disapproving look from one of the crew members, I decide to make a tour around the temple. Each time I complete a full circle around one of the temple’s many levels, I get a chance to watch a bit of Min Tanaka dancing. Once I reach the bottom, Min Tanaka is rounding up his performance for the camera. The crew applauds.

I decide to climb up to the top once again. I skip the usual circling around and go directly up via a staircase on one of the four sides of the temple. Buddha forgive me for that. Not that I think he cares. By the time I find myself on the top plane, the cloud of bugs is gone, the clouds in the sky have diluted significantly and so has any feeling of resentment in me.

…The view of the surrounding mountains is astonishing…

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