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The Reading and Representation of Modernity

Updated: Apr 28

During my stay in Jakarta this time, I meet people that actually are based in the ‘Big Durian’ and have learnt how to cope with the city’s lack of infrastructure and appreciate its many facets. I’m still shocked, though, by the social-economical disparity between the rich minority and the vastly poor rest of inhabitants of this place. It’s particularly disconcerting to observe how well-off foreigners and Indonesians alike dissociate themselves from the world around them and live from bubble to bubble. I thought I had seen enough on the bus ride from the airport to the Southern region of Jakarta. But the long ride on the back of a taxi-scooter that criss-crosses the jammed streets between my host’s place and the complex of buildings where the festival takes place reveals even more, more than one would probably like to be confronted with.


Once at the main theatre where the Indonesian Dance Festival is taking place, I ask around if there is a ‘fringe’ dance festival parallel to the main one. A choreographer, rather surprised by my question, replies: “Everything in Indonesia is fringe”.



Indonesian Dance Festival: Day 1

The opening ceremony starts with a series of long formal speeches to which one has to get used while visiting Indonesia. Since they’re mostly given in Indonesian language, I open the program booklet and read out of the article on the IDF theme ‘Next Generation and Beyond’. It turns out to be very inspiring. It views the body ‘as an instrument of movement and memory’ that “bears ideology” while relating dance to the history of society. It proceeds to present the IDF as a place for the staging and discussion of the “relation between ritual and modernity” and for how each artist deals with “history and gesture”. It urges the audience to “consider and ‘read’ dance as a document of modernity” that goes beyond the spectacle. It also questions the “reasonable way to ‘reading’ the ‘other’”, for example, culture.  It even goes as far as to suggest the public to consider how the artists would “like us to ‘know’ them”. I find the concluding paragraph particularly intriguing:


“At the heart of each reading and representation of ‘modernity’ lies the issue of power. As is the task of art that matters, we are drawn into debate. The links between ritual and modernity, and between self and other, enlarge and push us beyond our habitual myths and perceptions.” TFK


I finally feel that I’ve found some help in articulating what I had been going through during my traditional dance classes and through following the work of Mr. Didik from so close. How do I relate to the experience of merging into an ‘other’ culture and into the artistic work of an ‘other’ artist? How did my ‘self’ get affected by the many ‘cultures’ I’ve been hopping from and to? What do I carry nowadays from the experience of moving from my birthplace at the Northeast of Brazil to the South, from NYC to France, from Brussels to Amsterdam? How much of the ‘ritual’ and ‘modernity’ of each society or community I‘ve been to have I absorbed or rejected, kept or let go of?


My chain of thoughts is broken by a colorful and cheerful folk dance that enters the stage like fireworks. I soon realize that it doesn’t make part of the festival’s program. It is apparently part of the opening ceremony. It’s a spectacle. Not one of my favorites. I find it hard to apply to it the questions suggested by my recent reading.

Samparan “Moving Space” by Retno “Eno” Sulistyorini The first performance is inspired by a costume worn for a traditional Indonesian dance. The explanatory note on the program says that the performance proposes an exploration of dance movement through the distortion the long fabrics cause on the body of the dancer. It also says that the ‘dance scene’ can be seen as dance, painting, installation and theater. Indeed, I’d rather see this particular piece in a gallery event than on a traditional theater stage. It suddenly falls upon me how important it is that a maker defines his/her work in relation to how it would like the piece to be viewed. Also, how do an artist and his/her work stand among the disciplines chosen to support a particular piece?


The second and last performance of the evening is ‘The Iron Bed’ inspired on the film ‘Opera Jawa’ by Garin Nugroho. Though based on the ancient story of the Ramayana, Opera Jawa, the film,  is set in ‘contemporary’ times. Nugroho is famous for filming against a variety of cultural backgrounds that reflect the local/global issue and his work evokes important social and political debates. For this stage version, choreographers Martinus Miroto and Eko Supriyanto seem to lack that particular contrast of background. ‘The Iron Bed’ has become, in my opinion, an aestheticized version of the moral query of the Ramayana, which is still played in the traditional form of Wayang Orang throughout the Indonesian territory. It is a beautiful show, though, with strong theatrical and body languages and convincing transitions between the acted and danced scenes.



Indonesian Dance Festival: Day 2



I was very fascinated by the use of scenography and light for the piece “Comfort” by Michele Di Stefano and his ensemble MK. I still can’t relate much of the dancer’s performance I saw on stage to what was said in their explanatory text on the program. As suggested, “the choreography itself disappears and the body” “remains”. I actually had the opposite impression and wouldn’t have minded that particular choreography to vanish from my mind. I would say that Lily Kiara’s proposition of work has gone much further in performance articulation of this idea than what I saw on that stage.


Although we might have seen a similar kind of research plenty of times before, there’s something of convincing about Natsuko’s performance Anatomical Research – 3 Request Version. She is engaged in a clear questioning in her work and uses the performance as a research tool. It was executed in a spontaneous and compelling manner and, in the particular environment of this festival, it was emphasized by the contrast of the different ways different cultures tend to read the body. It does indeed triggers the question of how much of the way we read the/an ‘other’ body belongs to our specific community and what has become a universally shared symbology?


A great effort and commitment of translating body research into a solo performance could be felt at the other two Japanese pieces as well. Though from a same cultural background, Megumi Kamimura and Yukiu Suzuki take different choices in the representation of their ideas. It was very interesting to relate their background training and influences to how they shaped their bodies in order to serve their visions. But it probably says more about what the viewer relates to a certain culture and his/her expectations than what is seen on stage. On the other hand, it was clear that Suzuki’s “The Point of Words” comes closer to a more traditional Japanese art form in his interpretation and use of Butoh. Whereas Kamimura has apparently dissociated herself from that and opted for an original aesthetic of her own for this specific work entitled “Diagonally”. Indonesian Dance Festival: Day 3 Rachel Lincoln & Leslie Seiters, “An Attic An Exit” It is difficult to have a positive impression on the first performance of this evening after having been bombarded by all the issues “at stake” from Jérôme Bel’s ‘Pichet and Myself’ that I can relate to at the moment. I could probably say, though, that it was worthwhile to recognize my ideas as alien to a merely spectacular way of engaging the audience. Jérôme Bel, “Pichet and Myself” Now, extremely rewarding was to witness questions that had arisen from my first cultural exchange here in Indonesia being openly and so lucidly discussed on stage. What a thrill to see “some problematic notions such as euro-centrism, inter-culturalism, or cultural globalization” articulated in that way throughout the performance. I could even go as far as to state that, according to Bel’s idea of democracy in Art that brings the performer on the same level as the audience, he pretty much succeeded in what concerns the way I relate the piece to my own experience. The piece shows how one can only interpret the work of an ‘other’ culture, an ‘other’ aesthetic, via his own experiences and wisdom. That becomes clear in how Thai dancer and choreographer Pichet Klunchun reads the work of Bel without the usual ‘western’ preoccupations and mechanisms of analysis.


Besides that, Bel himself during the performance breaks down his views and ideas about the mechanisms of contemporary theater making. Contemporary as that which goes in search of the unknown, that which reveals your reality. Contemporary as a democratic rather than a spectacular approach to the performer-audience relationship. The need of a contemporary artist for a research that takes him away from past elements in representing today’s reality. Theater as a tool for “the audience to think and have emotions, to remember”. And how to allow the necessary time for the audience to reflect, after all, the audience is there, there’s time, there’s given concentration. The contemporary pursue of rediscovering the body while reducing and weakening a preconceived idea of dance and movement. The ‘hear and now’ singular aspect of the theater as opposed to other forms of entertainment.


I spent the whole night thinking and dreaming about how I relate my work as an artist to such subjects. Specially while considering the direction I want to move into through this particular research on ‘gender’. This brought me into further reflection upon what Maria La Ribot once said when discussing her ‘Pièces Distinguées’: questioning where her work stood amid the different disciplines she worked with at that moment in time.



Indonesian Dance Festival: Day 4



This evening’s program compiled choreographic works from different regions of the Indonesian archipelago, two of them having originated from some sort of collaboration with other Asian countries.


“Stone Body” by Indonesian dancer and choreographer Dek Geh was probably the most cohesive of them. He presented a solo that had a clear message, which corresponded to his choice of movement material and its aesthetic. I could appreciate it as an expressive performance although it was far away from my own choices of style.


On the other hand, the same can’t be said about Solo based artist Ni Kadek Yulia Moure’s work “Water and I” neither about Jakarta based artist Hartati’s work “Cinta Kita”. Maybe I wasn’t ready to read their choices but there was certainly nothing that grabbed my attention about them. In other words, they both failed in speaking to me in any level.


The fourth and last performance of the festival displayed a collaboration between Indonesian artist Ery Mefri and Taiwanese artist Cynthia Lee entitled “Malin Kundang”. I could see the extraordinary mastership of the many traditional styles Cynthia Lee presented by adding her own twist into them. Not being able to define Ery Mefri’s choice of aesthetic didn’t prevent me from relating to his performance. On the contrary, it only made his performance more captivating. I recall seeing that sort of presence and musicality in a handful of dancers and his movement research has certainly transgressed tradition. But I still missed the interest in bringing these two artists together and their collaboration misses a unified approach.

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