Saturday, May 30, 2009

Indonesian Dance

On Thursday evening, some of the other guests at the Ibu Heru Homestay and I went to see a dance program at the Auditorium MMTC in Jogjakarta.

A production of the Jogja Project, the evening included different traditional dance styles from across Indonesia. Unfortunately, the music was prerecorded, the two hosts were a bit shrill (in both English and Indonesian) and the PowerPoint operator had some issues with the educational slideshow. (In other words, it felt a bit like a high school talent show.) But all of that said, we saw some truly wonderful dancing.

For each dance, the stage was decorated with an appropriate background, and the dancers were in full costume.

The opening dance was a Minangkabau dance from West Sumatera -- one of the places in which I did my dissertation field research in 2007. The stage featured a traditional Minangkabau house with many upward sloping eves. (The name Minangkabau means "victorious buffalo," and so the houses are thought to resemble buffalo horns.) The music was strongly rhythmic, and the dance was martial arts inspired, a very cool beginning to the evening.

The traditional Balinese dance was intense. It involves extremely stylized movements of the head and hands, and to my eyes, it ended up looking very constrained and a bit robotic, as the dancers moved their heads in rapid motions without any other part of their body moving. This ultimately was a testament to the dancers -- who were wearing heavy outfits of golden thread -- as the movements were so precise. The music was heavy on the high-pitched percussion: lots of bell sounds.

I most liked the dance from West Kalimantan. It was playful and beautiful at the same time and also featured the best music. Three female dancers stood in the center of the stage, making small, flowing motions, while one warrior armed with sword and shield moved around them. When he would approach too close, they would slyly move away from him. Eventually too other warriors came out on stage and began to stalk the original warrior. The original warrior and one of the new dancers engaged in some brief combat -- slapping shields together and threatening to slash with their swords -- while the women moved quickly away from the action. The music sounded something like an electric guitar being played high up the neck with enough reverb to give a rich, warm tone. I would be delighted to find a recording of similar music. (Perhaps here?)

The evening concluded with a newly created dance combining elements (and dancers) from all of the Indonesian dance styles that had been presented during the event. It ended up being a bit forced and mostly will be remembered for one of the dancers losing her grass skirt in the middle of the piece. (She gracefully exited the stage and received a polite round of applause when she returned.)

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