A Contemporary Dance Platform – Dr Sal Murgiyanto

Pak Sal Murgiyanto-3Dr Sal Murgiyanto is a dance critic and associate professor at the Graduate School, Jakarta Institute of the Arts. He trained in classical Javanese dance, performing with Sendratari Ramayana Prambanan (1962-72) and Sardono Dance Theatre (1969-74) before making the transition into dance writing, lecturing, and festival organizing. He received his Ph.D. in performance studies from New York University, USA in 1991. He is founder and was artistic board of the Indonesian Dance Festival (IDF, Jakarta 1992-2012), and advisor to the World Dance Alliance (WDA) Indonesia.

We asked him to share his thoughts on contemporary dance in Cambodia as part of the Contemporary Dance Platform earlier in the month…


By Sal Murgiyanto

I first visited Cambodia in 2004 to participate in the Mekong Project initiated/organized by the Asian Cultural Council. Since then, Amrita Performing Arts has become a close partner of Indonesian Dance Festival (IDF) in bringing young Cambodian dancers and choreographers to participate in various IDF programs. In 2004, Amrita sent three dance artists and administrator—Sam Sathya, Hun Pen and Suon Bun Rith—to observe the seventh IDF. Prior to the IDF proper, I urged them to observe IDF’s Choreography Workshop held in Surabaya, East Java. “I want you just to observe, but at any time if you feel like taking part in the workshop you are welcome to do so,” I told Hun Pen. When I went to Surabaya at the end of the workshop, I was so delighted to see that Hun Pen managed to choreograph a seven minute solo, her first contemporary work, inspired by the big bird Garuda, God Vishnu’s companion. Appreciating Hun Pen’s effort and achievement, I asked her to present the solo piece at the IDF’s main event to a mixed audience response. Some audience gave an appreciation some others thought it was not contemporary enough. To me this response was less important than the joy of seeing a young dancer break out off the hard shell that limited her creative freedom.

In the following IDF in 2006 Fred Frumberg, director of Amrita, came to IDF with Sopheap, a male dancer, to participate in IDF’s choreography workshop. Sopheap’s solo monkey piece impressed Jakarta’s audience. A few years later I was informed that Indonesian choreographer Miroto was invited to give a dance workshop in Phnom Penh. Still later, in 2009 in Taiwan, I saw a group of young Cambodian painters of Reyum performing with contemporary dancers-choreographers Eiko and Koma at TNUA campus in Taipei. Slowly but convincingly, contemporary dance has become a choice for young Cambodian.

In IDF, collaboration across cultures has become an important program. We strongly believe that by studying the culture of others we better understand our own culture and, in line with this belief, by collaborating and sharing one’s knowledge and bodily experience with artists from different cultural backgrounds, one will understand better one’s strength and weaknesses. In the dance world it is commonly executed through a collaborative work. In this respect, the creative process and the negotiations in making important decisions will become a valuable lesson for both sides. I fully understand that not all choreographers are open for collaboration. And I do not intend to say that every collaboration runs smoothly and beautifully. Often it goes the opposite way. But we don’t use it to reject collaboration across culture since there are many advantages that we can get from such collaboration. Below, I quote Casey Avaunt’s statement about her collaboration with a Chinese Opera dancer in Taipei, Taiwan:

During my time in Taiwan I have observed that live performances made the lines of demarcation between people of different cultures particularly ambiguous. The transient and supple nature of performances allows them to slip silently into the existing moment only later to disturb everything around those involved. Performances have the capability to exist unencumbered by logic and tradition. They have the potential to become a battlefield, a site for contesting conventional concepts established in the past and for the negotiation of discourses to be laid out in the future. A useful vehicle for accessing the deepest foundations of society, performances that cross borders provide a mechanism allowing for established concepts to be re-viewed and re-arranged. Performances that cross borders, through the integration and mixing of cultural components such as ideas, customs and languages end up becoming manifestations of real-life cross-cultural situations and have the potential to reflect border situations (Avaunt 2012)

Appreciating the above valuable experience, IDF has paid special attention to collaborative work. Among collaborative works presented in IDF was “Pichet Klunchuen and Myself” (2009) by Jerome Bell (France) and Pichet Klunchuen (Thailand). Ten years earlier (1999), IDF invited choreographer Wen Hui (People Republic of China) to collaborate with the late composer I Wayan Sadra and dancers from the Indonesia Institute of the Arts in Surakarta. In the same year, Kota Yamazaki (Japan) choreographed and performed “Garden” with dancers from the Jakarta Institute of the Arts.

In later years, I learned that Amrita Performing Arts has also actively been involved in organizing cross-cultural dance workshops. Last year for IDF XI/2012, Kang Rithisal brought a group of young Cambodian dancers to perform CRACK a collaborative work by Arco Renz featuring Chey Chankethya and other Cambodian dancers.

Recently, cross-cultural collaboration has become a trend. It is not a big surprise then when early this year Eko Supriyanto showed me a DVD of his collaborative work with Amrita’s dancers Para-Human (2012) which was commissioned by Singapore National Museum. It is worth to note, however, that in order to best play in a cultural interaction we must,

  1. Clearly understand the nature of cross-cultural interaction we are taking part and understand at what side we are standing: at the incoming side or at the local side.
  2. Be concerned about culture. We have to be clear from the beginning what we mean by culture. Do we look at culture as a pure commodity to serve the market or we understand culture as “meaning-maker.”
  3. Be aware that while borrowing the form and structure of global forums such as international festivals, we have to select the local content with dignity and creativity.

I am delighted to know that after creating a large body of work through close collaboration with numerous international collaborators, Amrita Performing Arts is now shifting its focus to develop Cambodian choreographers as is evident in the Contemporary Dance Platform. The same drive has been our main reason in organizing the Indonesian Dance Festival which has been going on for more than 20 years.

Yogyakarta, 27 October 2013

This entry was posted in A Contemporary Dance Platform, Crack, Para-Human, Phon Sopheap and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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