Friday, June 05, 2009

Jumping from the jungle to the city

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sat, 05/16/2009 2:05 PM | Entertainment
A current choreographic work by Papuan artist Jecko Siompo offers depicts the costs of living for youngsters who choose live in boarding houses: The price to pay, the pleasures gained and the games played in the concrete jungle of urban life.
Jecko sees life in a boarding house as a vital transition for many people who look for a better life in city, especially those who emigrate from their homeland.
"Some of those youngsters at the boarding houses might become successful people someday. They might become president or minister someday," said the choreographer, who, despite having performed at world events in more than 11 countries still lives in a rented room in Kalipasir, Central Jakarta.
What is unusual about this performance, Terima Kost (Rooms for Rent), is its radical mix of the choreographer's original traditional roots and all the dance forms and influences he has absorbed throughout his career.
Many of Jecko's works, such as Irian Zoom In, Asmat Dani and "Obahorok" essentially portray the cultural journey of the artist, who was born in Jayapura, Papua, on April 4, 1975.
After finishing school in 1994, Jecko left his village for Jakarta to study dance at the Jakarta Art Institute. At the institute he learned various dance styles, using both traditional and contemporary forms. Outside school, he began a love affair with hip-hop, studied ballet and got addicted to computer games.
Like many of his works, in this latest work Jecko has created his distinctive language of movement, which portrays his journey from the jungle to the metropolis, from the primitive to the urban.
"For me, something very primitive or traditional is actually something very modern. My people in Papua are naked but in Jakarta or New York many people barely wear anything. The more you become modern, the more you back to primitive," Jecko told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the performance of the work at the Jakarta Art Institute on Thursday.
Although inspired by many Papuan traditional dances, Jecko's work is strikingly original but absolutely hybrid. It brims with a funky-ethno-virtual twist.
So in the space of a few minutes, we will be twirled with stylized Papuan tribal dance steps, and then entertained with moves from hip-hop or break-dancing, or the moonwalk he clearly copied from the King of Pop.
The radical mixture in his one-hour performance was reflected in the music, which Jecko arranged himself. He merges natural sounds like the sound of rainfall or noises of the night sound with the sounds of Nintendo, traditional Papuan music and reggae or hip-hop songs.
"If we really listen to the music of the people from the remote are of Papua, we find that their music is so similar to hip-hop," said Jecko, who learned hip-hop dance in Portland Maine, US. "There are slight differences perhaps because of the use of technology."
He said modern dance in Indonesia tended to look only to the western and central parts of Indonesia for inspiration from traditional music and art, hence his interest in "exploring the traditions of the eastern part *of Indonesia*, especially Papua".
In the latest work he succeeds both in bringing the real modern context of boarding house life into the choreography, and in eloquently presenting traditional Papuan characteristics such as movements, gestures and even jokes.
What we see then are not the supple, graceful Javanese movements or agile Minang martial art movements, but communal clapping, tapping and jumping or even climbing - the same movements found in Papuan traditional hunting, fishing or wedding dances.
"I see no difference between life in Papua and life in Jakarta, for example," Jecko said. "There is always a certain value in every life no matter how advantaged it is. For example, we climb and descend everyday. In Jakarta, we push buttons to use a lift, in Papua we climb a tree with our own hands and feet. The latter requires physical fitness and that's why we look more energetic."
Film director and art critic Garin Nugroho, who attended the performance, said Jecko had really explored the essence of dance among traditions from eastern Indonesia, which tend to represent happy bodies.
"In western Indonesia, such as in Java or Sunda, people are too tight with their body when they dance," said Garin. "It's different in the eastern part where they joke about and mock the body. For them, no matter whether you are fat or thin; they will joke around and make fun of the body. In western parts, joking about the body is only for clowns."
Garin, who worked with Jecko on several of his movie productions, said Jecko played with his indigenous roots but emphasized the body in the transition from the traditional to the modern. The boardinghouse sketch is the perfect representation of a body in transition, he said.
"Nowadays, a sketch of life in art has become the message itself and it doesn't necessarily carry a heavy meaning. The most important thing is it pleases people with the high skills of the artists."
Terima Kost will be performed by 10 dancers from Jeckos Dance at the Esplanade Theatre Studio in Singapore on May 27 and 28, as part of the Singapore Art Festival, one of the world's most prestigious arts events - something that means a lot to Jecko personally.
"When I first participated as a dancer in the event in 1996, I said to myself someday I would perform my own work here," Jecko said. "It's a dream come true for me after 13 years."

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