Friday, June 05, 2009

Jecko Siempo: Dancing for his life

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , JAKARTA | Sat, 05/23/2009 1:18 PM | People

Courtesy of Jecko Siempo Courtesy of Jecko Siempo

When Jecko Siempo boarded a boat in Papua in 1993, he told his mother he was going on a holiday to Biak. In fact, he left for Jakarta, with a fierce determination to study music.

Then 18 years old, the high school graduate chose the Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ) because he had been to the capital on holiday 10 years before, when he saw a break-dance performance at the Senayan sporting complex.

“In Papua, dancing and singing are part of daily life. Some people say we’d die if we didn’t sing and dance. Since our birth we are plunged into ceremonies and rituals,” Jecko told The Jakarta Post recently.

“When I saw the break-dancing, I felt it had the same spirit and rhythm as Papuan dances. They are slightly different because they use different musical instruments.”

At first he enjoyed the boat trip because many of his friends were also on board, but he was the only one headed for the capital.

“I didn’t know what to do. The people I know were headed off the ship in Surabaya.”

Fortunately, he met a woman who was going to Jakarta to see her policeman husband. She gave him a ride to the Papuan provincial police dormitory in Mampang, South Jakarta, where he was allowed to stay for a week.

“I really want to meet her again now but I don’t where she is,” Jecko said. “She was like an angel to me.”

As a newcomer to the Jakarta jungle, Jecko did not know where to go. But once again luck bounced his way: Eight of his high-school friends who had been accepted into the police academy came to the dormitory.

They took Jecko to the IKJ, requested the application form (which cost Rp 50,000) and filled it in for him. His first attempt was not successful: Jecko, unable to read music, was not eligible to enroll in the music department. He had to choose another department or none at all.

“I was sitting on the roof of the police dormitory thinking about the situation. And at the same time a friend of mine in Papua told me that I had been accepted into law school in Hasanuddin University in Makassar.”

By morning, Jecko had made up his mind: He would enroll in the dance course.

“If I enrolled in music I would have to bring musical instruments, but if I dance, I just need my body. I chose to learn what I really had in me,” he said.

A month later, he was accepted.

“With tears in my eyes I called my parents in Papua,” he said. “They were mad at me, especially my father, but I felt that he was angry and happy at the same time.”

At first, Jecko’s parents covered his costs, but then he was on his own because his father, a policeman, was preparing for retirement.

To make money, Jecko joined a group of pengamen (street singers) in the Mampang area, when he “learned how valuable two hundred rupiah was”.

But fortune favors the bold. By the end of his second year at the institute, he was earning his way as a backup dancer and supporting actor on TV shows. “My role was always the dull criminal, pickpocket or hoodlum,” he said.

His physical features and his body movements attracted his seniors, and soon he was being recruited for their performances. Many were already big names at that time: Sardono W. Kusumo, Boi Sakti and Dedy Luthan.

One year before his graduation in 1998, his work titled Goda (Temptation) won him the award for best choreographer in a competition held by the Jakarta Playhouse (GKJ).

“That was the time when people started to notice me,” said the dancer, who choreographed moves for rock band Slank’s Generasi Biru (Blue Generation) and Riri Riza’s Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Warriors).

A year after graduation, he was invited to be guest choreographer to the Bates Dance Festival in Port Maine, US. After the festival, he strolled down to Manhattan and for about two months he learned the “original” hip hop he had learned in the 1980s, on its home turf.

“Just like Papuan traditional dances, hip-hop culture touches the ground. Both draw their strength from the earth with slightly different styles. Hip hop seems to detach itself from the earth while Papuans tend to get closer to the earth,” he mused, theorizing that these two cultures might have crossed in ancient times.

Back home, he founded Jakarta Breakin’, a hip-hop group doing gigs in pubs and cafes, but a knee injury forced him to stop “breaking”.

Jecko, a confessed computer-game addict, is now one of the few Indonesian dancers and choreographers who perform their work both locally and at international festivals. Like his life, his work portrays a cultural journey where he never forgets his indigenous roots while absorbing the many forms and influences he encounters along the way.

Some of his early works seemed distant from Papua, but when Jecko works with Papuan materials, he shines the brightest. This is evident in works such as Irian Zoom In, Tikus-Tikus (Rats), Matahari Itu Terbit di Papua (The Sun is Shining in Papua) and his most recent work, Terima Kost (Rooms for Rent), which will be performed at the Singapore Art Festival on May 27 and 28.

But Jecko is not without his critics. Sculptor and choreographer Teguh Ostenrik, who recruited Jecko for Transcending Time said that “he has brilliant creativity but sadly lacks discipline. With the kind of creativity he has, he should have created more emancipative works rather than using his Papuan materials for entertainment,” Teguh added.

But Jecko has this defense.

“I’m not creating a Papuan dance, I’m creating dance on Papua. I take the spirit and principles of Papuan people and perform them in modern dance.”

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