The Dress Rehearsal Treat
What a feast! How many interesting people! Musicians, dancers, writers, painters, composers, choreographers, mask makers and mask dancers, every sort of traditional and contemporary artists. Besides, a handful of people that may not consider themselves artists but are related in one way or another to Yogya’s artistic world and are all friends with Mr. Didik.
We were all invited to gather for a dinner and to watch the dress rehearsal of Mr. Didik’s latest creation, which is about to premier in three weeks time in Jakarta.
A group of international students, who are here as part of the Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship 2008, are also here accompanied by their tutor. For the last weeks, they’ve been learning the Indonesian language, crafts, dance and music.
We are asked to introduce ourselves and are all mesmerized by the brightness of every person in the room. Some of the students get up and show a little bit of what they do back in their own countries. Two of them show pieces of traditional dance from Japan and Philippines. Only Mr. Didik to assemble this amount of creative and sharing beings under one roof.
As a treat to the students, Mr.Didik shares his experience and knowledge of cross-gender dance traditions. He concludes the informal yet consistent lecture by displaying the DVD that summarizes his research in cross gender. The screen is filled with images of cross gender dances and dancers from different cultures such as Japan, Europe and Southeast Asia and excerpts of editions of The Cross Gender Festival. Mr. Didik himself produced the latest edition of this international festival, which took place here in Yogyakarta.
Mr. Didik then explains the influence that Japanese mask tradition has on his own work and how he combines it with the Javanese mask tradition. He tells us how his studies in Japan with masters of Noh Theater have affected his work. He illustrates how to function within the symbology and characterization of emotions that a mask represents. And how, from the inspiration of a specific female character and its mask from Noh Theater he came to create the character for this new creation that’s based on a Javanese traditional story.
He then proceeds to introduce the tale of Dewi Sarag Jodag, a Javanese Traditional narrative from which he takes inspiration for this new performance. The story is based on the subject of transformation and depicts the many metamorphoses that the main character, Princess Dewi Sarag Jodag, go through. It’s a fable of love, jealousy, treason and vengeance spiced with humor within Mr. Didik’s well-known comedic framework.
A question arises from the audience. Mr. Didik is asked to describe his process of making choreography. He answers: First of all, he makes use of a story that has called his attention. Then, he does a research around traditional drama and dance with the help of other masters. From these interviews he draws information on the character he would like to work with. By combining different styles, such as Western and Central Javanese, Cirebonese and Balinese, he starts to mold the choreography. For this particular performance he uses aspects of a similar character from Noh Theater.
The next thing Mr. Didik mentions is the idea for the scenery he got from a quote of Disney’s Snow White. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?” I’m startled. Now we all understand what a huge mirror-like frame is doing in the room. He adds that, not only the frame makes it possible for the projection of videos he had in mind, but also how it aids in the transitions from one character to another during the performance. He illustrates this by completely changing his body language while alternating the two masks that were particularly designed for this performance.
Since we are all impressed by his dexterity in the use of masks, and by the masks themselves, Mr.Didik asks two of his guests to demonstrate how masks are used in Javanese culture. I understand from the expression on the faces of other foreigners around me that it isn’t every day that one gets a chance to witness such an exhibition.
Finally the performance itself comes.
But just one more thing before the show: Mr. Didik reveals to us the secrets behind the head dressing and the costume. He points to the member of his staff who is responsible for them and clarifies how they’re confectioned based on tradition and twisted with his own trademark.
The use of humor, the choice of costumes and cultural images (Noh Theater, Disney movies, Javanese Traditional Dance and Theater) could turn any performance into a display of camp elements. But there’s such a conviction in Mr. Didik’s choice making that makes them as important as any other theatrical element and essential to the performer-audience relation.
Why should we be afraid of telling stories on stage? Although, the way Mr. Didik does it gets translated through the traditional dance styles he has come to master. There’s more than literal transliteration of stories.
Why are we so afraid of using such common symbols as the ones from Disney movies? They reach so many people.
Why do most of nowadays performances seem to always comment on them instead of using them as artifices of performance?
I come back running home and ask Ruth, my roommate, if I could copy her Pocahontas’s song from her computer to mine. I had this idea for my own project that might work or at least inspire something interesting.
Thanks to Cathay Pacific selection of videos. And to Mr. Didik, of course.
All photographs from this post were taken by Cynthia Webb.