Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dancing to the Din

It was Friday afternoon, and Tuti had a spare ticket for a contemporary interpretive dance performance in Salihara that she was offering me to go to. Having nothing better to do, plus all the reasons in the world to further deprive my body of its much-needed sleep, I said yes. I had never been to Salihara and I could already imagine my budaya points increasing by 20% after the night.

So we took the train to Pasar Minggu from Cikini, and because we took the wrong train, we had to change train in Manggarai. Consider that it was after work hours, and the train was Bogor bound. So we were being wildly optimistic of our ability to contort our limbs so that we can fit in. We took the pain of worming our way to the carriage doors to not miss our stop. We shoved our faces into strangers’. We made fleeting eye contacts with other passengers, we dropped them as they contorted their bodies to let us through. We weaved the train’s sputtering stops and starts to our movements. We were dancing.

A couple of hours later, the performers shuffled fluidly inside the atelier, snaking their way among the audience. The audience were clustered in groups, and the performers swerved around the theatre, dancing in close quarters with the largely-confused audience, often times leaving mere inches from their faces, making fleeting eye contacts before dropping them to resume their elegant disjointed performance.

The performance did not break the fourth wall simply because they denied its existence to begin with. Picture is from here.
It was amazing to see the limber bodies of the performers as they pranced around the throng of onlookers. It was even more amazing if you consider that they danced without music. They brought the din of Jakarta’s streets inside, and the harsh noise of car horns, motorcycle klaxons, and loud exhaust pipe sounds were pretty much the constant background of the performance; I can not imagine how they could possibly find a beat to dance in those.

I had been racking my brain trying to impute meaning to the performances that I see from the start. Forcing yourself to tune out the jarring exhaust pipe noises of fifteen motorcycles going around Salihara’s lawn does that to you. Having your eyes stung by the smoke of ten flares lit by a group of young men with their faces covered in helmets does that to you. Watching a man dancing against the parapet in high heels does that to you. And I had no clue of what were going on.

And yet, as the performance progressed, it struck me that the dancing and prancing inside the atelier was exactly like being in public transportation, where you had no option but to squeeze your way in between strangers. And shortly after squeezing your way out. Your senses were relentlessly assaulted by the constant cacophony from the street (and while you can close your eyes to stop seeing, you can’t do the same with your hearing. Earphones can only help you so far). Being aware that there are many things that goes on at the same time, and that it is impossible to know everything of what is happening everywhere. That night, art imitates life.

I got all that because I took the train from Cikini, and more generally I take the bus daily. And while the two dangdut tracks they put on the background to relieve the traffic din as background music had me wondering if this high-brow performance steals low-brow entertainment to mock them, I decided it felt more like a celebration of the daily insanity of living in a big city. I could care less that maybe the performance would resonate very little with those in the audience who always run their errands being chauffeured in their arrogantly shiny cars, because who gives a fuck about them.

Overall it was a really cool performance. It was an acknowledgement, a celebration presented in the form of seemingly mindless movements. And as the movements were presented without the come-hither looks that so dominate our popular culture, it was refreshing to see that expressive dancing can be non-sensual and non-sexual.

I bet Tuti and other audience took all that differently. One of Tuti’s friend remarked on the sing-song chant that one man sang near the end of the performance (“I wish I had lighter skin; I wish I was better at singing; it’s kind of a big deal here,” “I am falling for every guy that I see; but they don’t love me,”). Another asked if it was uncomfortable dancing at such a close quarter, with many personal eye contacts (“I liked how it allows me getting a direct feedback from the audience,”). Another was more intent in navel-gazing, asking the choreographer how he found us as the audience that night, and what were different about us compared to their previous audiences (“We had a performance where everyone danced with us, we had a performance where everybody were sitting down from the start, we had a performance where everybody were standing by the walls. We haven’t had one before where people went up to the rooftop.” He added "At the rehearsal it was really different because the audience was all of these journalists with their cameras; you interact with them but they were behind the lenses," (which is probably what their general audience will be in Tokyo, if the theatre does not confiscate the audience's cellphones)). And that inevitably led to a question that asked whether they intended the audience to dance along (“Not really; that would require us to manipulate you as the audience,”).

And then we reached the end of the evening. As I felt my bus shaking to the rhythm of the road, the dancing felt liberating.

Blurb for the performance: Volution / Groove Space.
Other reviews about this performance:
- 'Volution/groove space': brings a city to the stage
Mengkaji Interaksi Tubuh dan Sebuah Kota

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