Rasa Dari Tari/The Soul of Dance
by Mark Freeman
I came to Indonesia as Fulbright Scholar. Like many Americans, I had only a limited understanding of the richness and diversity of this chain of 17,000 islands (6,000 inhabited). Indonesia is the world’s 4th most populous country, and the largest Muslim majority country. But its culture and traditions are deeply inflected by Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, animism, and Christianity,
I searched for a title that would capture the essence of my understanding of the creative process in Indonesian choreography. The concept of rasa is only partially conveyed by soul, which for most English speakers is spiritual rather than physical.
“… [R]asa can mean the essential, often hidden, significance of something …. one has to engage all one’s senses, feelings, and intuitions, as if one were tasting the essence of the thing…. The rasa magnetizes the viewer, pulling her or him into the dramatic situation so that the viewer can relish the work in an almost gustatory way, experiencing it in mind and body. (Walton, 2007 p. 31-32) Perhaps the closest usage in English is soul music — a combination of gospel and blues. James Brown, the “godfather of soul,” was well known for his kinetic, acrobatic dance moves, embodying a rooted sense of impassioned movement. While much of traditional Indonesian dance is noted for its style and grace, I’d suggest that perhaps the notion of soul dance can transcend idioms and culture.
The Soul of Dance is an introduction to the vibrant diversity of contemporary dance in Indonesia. Rooted both in tradition and the practice of modern movement this documentary introduces audiences to work ranging from site-specific solos to multimedia musical theater. Indonesian contemporary dance is syncretic. It borrows freely from multiple Indonesian traditions ranging for formal court dances to village rituals (Hays, 2008). Indonesian choreographers feel free to borrow and adapt everything from Broadway musicals and hip-hop to a studied use of modern and post-modern techniques. (Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, and Martha Graham all had visited Indonesia, laying the groundwork for what has become a thriving contemporary dance culture.)
Scott Marks in his review describes the film’s approach as “ [u]sing the fabric of contemporary dance in Indonesia, [to] concentrate[s] on the threads that bind tradition with the future” (Marks, 2014).
The documentary includes excerpts from six works.
Tom Ibnur’s Padusi is an entertaining spectacle with brilliant costumes and a company of enthusiastic young dancers. It’s a popular work updating a story based on the customs of the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra. The dance is an update of Randai, folk theatre — known for combining dance, music, singing, and drama, as well as traditional martial arts (silat). Tom told me, “If people look at it as a Broadway style [show], I really have no idea because I have never intended to create a show like Broadway. I have watched the show in New York, but that is not my approach. If people would like to look at it as a Broadway show, go ahead. But I started from my tradition and never intended to copy what other people do in other countries.”
Sherly Novalinda’s dance film Bodies of Malay captures the progress of women from West Sumatra, Indonesia who traditionally were forbidden to dance. Wearing a jilbab (Indonesian for hijab), Sherly may confound the stereotypes of viewers with limited understanding of the challenges and opportunities available to women choreographers in Indonesia. Like many Indonesian artists Sherly uses creativity to overcome obstacles of resources and budget. With film equipment difficult to access, she and her cinematographer mounted their camera on a bicycle, which was much more flexible than an expensive and hard to find camera dolly or steadicam.
Garin Nugroho’s international reputation has meant that he wasn’t limited by budgetary constraints facing an emerging artist like Sherly Novalinda. Nugroho is one of the most acclaimed film and theatre directors working in Indonesia today. The Red Shawl/Selendang Merah is the final part of his Opera Jawa Trilogy. This dance theatre piece tells the story of the monkey warrior Kethek (based on Hanoman, from the Indonesian Ramayana. Hanoman’s exploits are often told in Javanese puppet theatre (wayang)). This piece presents a gamelan orchestra, extraordinary singing and original choreography in a live performance (Jakarta Globe, 2014). Garin’s most recent film, Setan Jawa (Satan Jawa) premiered internationally at the Asia Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts at the Melbourne Art Centre (2017).
Jecko Siompo was raised in the jungle of Papua, at the eastern edge of the Indonesian archipelago. He told me that in Papua he “grew up in the forest, among 400 distinct tribes and languages.” (Indonesian Papua shares a border with Papua New Guinea.) Jecko now lives in Jakarta a metropolis of over 9 million. His work, In Front of Papua, is a unique combination of “animal movement” and hip-hop. Not such a stretch, since his grandmother assures him that “hip-hop came from Papua.” Jecko teaches his “animal-pop” to dozens of enthusiastic young students in Indonesia and abroad.
Yola Yulfianti is an exceptional young choreographer. She served as an Associate Producer on the film. She introduced me to the world of contemporary dance in Indonesia, providing context and background, and translating both customs and language. Her Update Status is an adaptation of a staged work reconceived as a site-specific solo performed by Rizki Suharlin Putri in Kalimantan (the Indonesian portion of Borneo). The dancer moves before an enormous open pit coal mine. The contrast between her and the scarred industrialized landscape reflects the scale of the changes underway in Indonesia today.
Rianto’s Body Without a Brain is a high risk, physically demanding performance. Rianto seems to be in a trance as he creates an unpremeditated encounter with the elements. He describes the work as like a tree without roots. The piece embodies anxiety as the natural world becomes ever more threatened. (See Body Without a Brain for an extended discussion of Rianto and this work.)
Rasa Dari Tari/The Soul of Dance is a taste of Indonesian dance. The film is by no means a complete or comprehensive survey of Indonesian contemporary expression. The intention is to offer viewers to a sample of recent work and to introduce lesser-known choreographers. The film has been featured in international festivals and in a survey of Indonesian dance at Weltmuseum’s (Vienna) Danced Creation Exhibit
Jakarta Globe. (2014). Opera Jawa Comes Full Circle With ‘Selendang Merah’ | Jakarta Globe. [online] Available at: http://jakartaglobe.id/features/opera-jawa-comes-full-circle-with-selendang-merah/ [Accessed 9 Oct. 2017].
Hays, J. (2008/2015). DANCE IN INDONESIA | Facts and Details. [online] Factsanddetails.com. Available at: http://factsanddetails.com/indonesia/Arts_Culture_Media_Sports/sub6_4c/entry-4054.html [Accessed 9 Oct. 2017].
Marks, S. (2014). Local filmmaker Mark Freeman screens new dance documentary. [online] Sandiegoreader.com. Available at: https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2014/may/01/screen-filmmaker-mark-freeman-dance-documentary/# [Accessed 9 Oct. 2017].
Walton, S. (2007). Aesthetic and Spiritual Correlations in Javanese Gamelan Music. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 65(1), pp. 31-41.
Tom Ibnur graduated from Jakarta Art Institute (IKJ) majoring in choreography. He works as the Main Instructor at Jakarta Art Institute, a Guest Instructor for Indonesia Arts Institute (ISI) in Padangpanjang, a Guest Instructor of Riau Malay Art Academy (AKMR) in Pekan Baru, and director of Langkan Budaya Taratak for Jakarta, Jambi and Padangpanjang.
Tom Ibnur is also the Production Director of Taman Ismail Marzuki Jakarta, and the second Assistant Dean of the Performance Art Faculty of Jakarta Art Institute.
His career in art began when he learned traditional self defense art and dance at the age of five. He took lessons in Malay Dance with Darwis Loyang, and also learned about Minangkabau dance with the assistance of Mantijo Sutan. In 1968 he began to create dances. In 1970, he set up Scorpini Dance Group in Padang. In 1971 he introduced Indonesia cultures to Malaysia and Singapore.
Tom Ibnur has has created more than 300 dances. These dances were performance in various festivals not only in Indonesia but also overseas, including the America Dance Festival (1984 and 1986), Singapore Art Festival (1984, 1988, 2001), Indonesia Dance Festival (1992), International Folk Festival in France, Spain, Austria, Italy, Korea, Japan and America, Melbourne International Festival (1990), Festival Zapin Nusantara (1998, 2008, 2011), The Worldwide Malay Arts in Malaysia (2001), Chingay Parade Singapore (2001, 2003 and 2007), and the Jakarta-Berlin Arts Festival 2011.
He has also received awards for his performance: The Best Choreographer of Jakarta Art Delegate (1983 and 1984), The Best Choreographer of International Folk Festival in France (1993), and the Art Preservation Award (2001) from President of the Republic of Indonesia, Life Achievement Award from University of Indonesia (2008), Life Achievement Award from Sangrina Bunda Folk Dance and Music Company (2009), and Sagang Awards (2011) for his dedicated in Malay Culture Development
Rianto is a dancer from Banyumas Indonesia. He performs and collaborates with many contemporary choreographers. Since moving to Tokyo in 2006, he has developed different choreographic practices. He is the Director of Dewandaru Dance Company Tokyo. He was invited to dance in the reception for the inaugural ceremony of President-elect Obama on January 17-20, 2009, by the Indonesian Embassy in Washington.
He graduated from the Academy of Dance of STSI (currently known as ISI: Institut Seni Indonesia) Surakarta. He mastered the traditional dance of Banyumas called Lengger while in SMKI (Sekolah MenengahKarawitan Indonesia. After that, he learned Gagah and Alus Javanese traditional dance under Mr. Daryono while studying the court dance in Istana Mangkunegaran. He was a member of TBS dance Theatre Studio in Solo and has participated in works of Korean choreographer Sen Hea Ha, and he has performed in Seoul, Singapore, Belgium, Netherlands and Austria since 2005.
In 2006, he performed in an opera directed by Chen Shi Zheng of China, which was presented in Schubert Theatre in Boston and London Coliseum with English National Opera. In 2007 he received an ANA grant and has presented his own choreograph works Pintu Amaterasu and Healing in Surakarta Java, Jakarta, Taiwan, Surabaya and Riau Sumatra.
He was a delegate Indonesia choreographer at WDA Asia-Pacific in Singapore. He has collaborated in South-East Asian Arts by Nusantara with Postgraduate composer at Royal Northern Collage of Music and Performance in Lakeside Theatre Nottingham, UK.
He appeared as a guest artist in Gulliver & Swift and the Garibabastrange world of Japanese dance company Pappatarahumara. He performed Hallucination at the Japan Tpam Showchase 2010. He participated in the contemporary dance multicultural work Japan and Indonesia Pintu Amaterasu at KLPAC-Malaysia 2010. The latest worked Shadowing the Body was perform at Male Matters and Fourth Nartaka Dance Festival in India 18-23 Oct 2010. He is searching for traditional concepts in order to develop a contemporary approach with his own style of expression, using his lithe and strong body freely in Javanese traditional dance, as well as the female-role dance of Banyumas and in dynamic contemporary dance.
Jeck Kurniawan Siompo Pui was born in Jayapura on 4th of April 1975. When he still was a child, he learned traditional dance at Rawori Dok 8 Bawah, Jayapura. After graduating from high school in North Jayapura, he continued his studies of dance in 1994 at IKJ.
In 1999 he studied Hip-Hop in Portland, Maine, USA, and then in 2002 received a scholarship from Goethe-Institut Jakarta to study at Folkwang Dance Studio in Germany. During his time in Jakarta, he also performed in Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Germany, Denmark, Australia, the USA, France, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Russia and toured a few Indonesian cities.
The pieces he created include: Betamax to DVD (2009), What Existed (2009), Behind Is In Front (2008), Matahari Itu Terbit Di Papua (2007), Terima Kos (2007), In Front Of Papua (2005), Di Kamar Kos Aku Mengganti Baju (2004), Tikus-Tikus (2003), 8 pm Kamar Kos (2001), Unanuk (2001), Buto Huruf (2000), Sketsa Impian (1999), Irian Zoom In (1998), Goda (1997), Ini Budi (1997), Manusia Got (1996), Kontemp Error (1995) and Impian (1995).
During the last two years, Jecko performed his pieces at the Regional Dance Summit at Goethe-Institut Jakarta in 2009, at the Singapore Arts Festival at Esplanade, Singapore, in 2009, at the Pacific Dance Platform at the Hongkong Arts Festival in Hongkong in 2009, at dB Physical Arts Festival OSAKA BABA in Osaka, Japan, in 2008, at ENCOUNTEER Dance ASIA in Tokyo, Japan, in 2008, at DANCE WAVE FUKUOKA 07-Asia Contemporary Dance Now! in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2008, at the Opening of the Salihara Festival in Jakarta in 2008, at the Arts Summit Indonesia V in Jakarta in 2007, at 5 PIECES: New Dance Indonesia in Singapore 2007, at Gelar Koreografi Kota DKJ in Jakarta in 2007, at LIVE ART in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2007, at the Osaka Asia Contemporary Dance Festival in Osaka, Japan, in 2007 and at the Asian Dance Conference in Tokyo, Japan, in.
Among others, he received the following decorations: he won the choreography competition of GKJ in 1997, best choreographer at the Dance Stage of the Office for Cultural Affairs of the City of Jakarta in 2000, one of 20 young Indonesians noted in the book Catatan Emas: Kisah 20 Pemuda Indonesia Yang Mengukir Sejarah and one of four Asians noted in the book Young South Asia.
Even though he has performed well in dance and has represented Indonesia on stages worldwide, Jecko still rents a simple room and is “an important person who does not want to be considered important — just normal, as he says. After his success at the Singapore Arts Festival 2009, his piece Terima Kost was performed at Kampnagel Theater in Hamburg from 11th 13th Febuary 2010, he has given workshops in Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, Flying Circus Project in Singapore and Cambodia, and was a leader in International Indigenous Choreographic Laboratory Broome, Australia. He did a Summer Tour in 2010 to Zurich in Theater Spektakel, Berlin for Tanz Im August at Hebbel AM Uffer, and Groninghen for Nooderzon Festival forTerima Kost. After that he premiered his new Piece Unanuk and his Duet Tikus-Tikus in Korea for SIDance Festival on October 2010, and his movies Underwear and Face Coming On were also screened in Korea.
With his Group, JeckoSDANCE, he toured the world performing, We Came From The East, produced by Kampnagel (Hamburg), Hebbel Am Uffer (Berlin), Esplanade Theater on Bay (Singapore) and Goethe Institute (Jakarta).
He presented an International Pre premiere at Goethe Hauss Jakarta on 12 April 2011, international premiere on Kampnagel Theater on 20-22 April 2011, followed by a performance in Hebbel Am Uffer Berlin September 2011, the Singapore Dance Festival Esplanade, Melbourne Festival and Tong Tong Festival Den Haag.
Recently, he returned from Japan where he presented his new piece Erectus City and Emm at the Dance Triennial Festival in Shibuya-Tokyo. He performed at the Aichi Arts Festival in Nagoya Japan October 18 20 2013 where he presented creation Terima Kost in a new version.
RASA DARI TARI/THE SOUL OF DANCE a film by Mark Freeman
Response written by Michelle Carpenter, Assistant Professor, University of Colorado at Denver
Rasa Dari Tari / Soul of Dance is 26-minute documentary that introduces the viewer to the history, ritual and ceremony surrounding contemporary dance in Indonesia.
The film opens with fast paced beautifully framed and edited footage of contemporary Indonesian dance and highlights the six choreographers/dancers featured in the piece. Each choreographer or dancer showcased in the film is creatively framed in environmental color or is placed in hauntingly beautiful location.
Jecko Siompo a young choreographer featured in Freeman’s documentary relates the historical roots of Indonesia ethnic dance and its ties to contemporary hip hop dance and movement. Freeman chose to film Siompo interview in an urban environment communicating his ties to contemporary hip hop culture and includes video clips from Siompo’s performance In Front of Papua. The included footage from In Front of Papua is beautifully edited and highlights the primal and animal like movements featured in Siompo’s work.
The second choreographer featured in Rasa Dari Tari / Soul of Dance is Yola Yulfianti. Yulfiant’s piece called Update Status is performed and filmed above a strip or open pit mine. The barren and stripped landscape juxtaposed with the lovely dancer is both horrific and hauntingly beautiful. The framing of each shot, depth of field, focus and seamless editing reinforce the thoughts of the choreographer and communicates how dance is a ritual a ceremony The editing and pacing relate and compliment the type of movement she uses in her work that relates to the flow of water. The layering of audio is successful on many levels as it makes one reflect on the impact of technological developments in Indonesia, overload and ancestral voices calling to be heard.
Rasa Dari Tari / Soul of Dance includes an interview with Garin Nugroho and features clips from his acclaimed work Opera Jawa 3. Opera Jawa 3 combines traditional Javanese classical music and dance to explain stories based Ramayana. In the documentary Nugroho discusses the importance of storytelling in the Indonesian culture and explains how Opera Jawa 3 is a poetic combination of traditional culture and east meets west. The video footage from Opera Jawa 3 provides an intimate account of the dancers live performance and beauty of the set design.
Bodies of Malay highlights Sherly Novalinda’s choreography explores the power of dance, to free the spirit and soul and to perform as a universal language. For many years women of West Sumatra Indonesia were not allowed to dance. Bodies of Malay discusses the how dance is a universal language. The segment is forcefully edited to reinforce the struggles faced by the women in Malay. Freeman’s use of a single backlight source and the use of extreme close up framing, reveal the strength of women and their desire to dance.
Freeman includes an interview with Tom Ibnur the choreographer for the performance Padusi. Tom Ibnur is concerned with adding new elements into traditional dance and performance theatre. The performance is skillfully documented and highlights the elaborate stage sets, the use of highly stylized dance props that includes colorful birds with long streamers and dazzling costumes.
Body Without a Brain is an exploration of artist and dancer Rialto attempts to display the threats facing the natural world. Rianto longs to experience new feelings and energy in his body and channeled through dance into trance. Freeman filmed Rianto’s performance in a lush green tropical forest with a 20-foot waterfall. Freeman opens the sequence with an establishing shot of Rianto washing in the water. The shot allows the viewer to experience the beauty of the natural environment and to ground Rianto in the natural environment. As the sequence progresses the shots move from wide framing to extremely close up framing. The framing becomes uncomfortably close at times and is often grotesque. The movements, framing and editing work to create anxiety and discomfort in the viewer. The mixture of natural sounds with minimal sounds and echoes works to create discomfort in the viewer. Rianto describes Body Without a Brain like a tree without roots, and Freeman is successful in relating the delicate balance of the impact of people on our natural environment.
In conclusion Mark Freeman is Rasa Dari Tari /Soul of Dance is a compelling exploration of contemporary Indonesian dance. The piece is beautifully and professionally executed and beautiful overview into the world of Indonesian Dance. He has woven the interviews of six of Indonesia’s best choreographers into a story that embraces and explores the dramatic power of ritual, cultural expression and meaning behind the art of dance.
Garin Nugroho and Opera Jawa Trilogy
Opera Jawa 3 Jakarta Post
Opera Jawa Discussion Guide
Routledge Performance Archive
Mark Freeman Papers, 1997-2017, University Archives, Special Collections and University Archives, Library and Information Access, San Diego State University. Special Collections may be contacted via telephone (619-594-6791), fax (619-594-0466) or firstname.lastname@example.org