By Su-Wen Chi
Seven days in Bogor for IDF dance workshop is a delight, physical and philosophical. I enjoy the first encounter with Mas Suprapto (Suryodarmo, instructor), the chat with him is like an invitation to dance in an invisible space, which opens up, stimulates, bridges the conversation between each participant and instructor. The approach of four instructors and 16 participants living together for few days in the same compound is a fun and profound experience. This allows us to be with each other in many different mindsets, and for us to apply the skill in communication and negotiation in an organic form. Being surrounded by the rough nature is the first context which surprises me, in comparison to the clean set up of dance studio I used to be, I was thinking quiet intensively how to position myself in the context and introduce the technology into the workshop.
The workshop’s brief offers a clear introduction, opening a few terms for dialogue in the first day. There is an obvious attempt in connecting the local and international dance issues/approaches, and yet stay close to the Asian context (from the fact of our nationalities). The timetable is set in a way so there is time for physical practice, for reflection and for discussion; the pace of the timetable is steady and yet flexible. The strategy of having four instructors being together with the participants is a nice move, although it feels slightly confusing in the beginning as 16 participants plus four instructors from all directions is quiet a big group with lots of information, thanks to the nature around us, the energy of the exchange between everyone smoothed through. In the end, these young people and four instructors from different generations all manage to deliver valuable knowledge to the team, driven by the curiosity in understanding dance and its larger perspective and definition.
Flexibility is the first strength I find in each participant, this may connect to the strong sense in being part of the community—each coming with a variety of dance techniques from their past education—swimming in between different approaches of each instructor in the workshop, not mentioning that they being articulate during the discussion in a gentle and intelligent way. They seem to be very exciting about whatever they learn, not to ignore the simple or little detail in their feeling or on the way of doing. They respectfully pose the question in the proper timing, also knowing when to approach which instructor privately for further discussion. I appreciate their ability in trusting each other and sharing intimate moment together, even when they are slightly critical about something (most of the time it was during one on one chat, this was the time when I know them further, knowing how they discretely navigated and reflected what happened during the day into their personal journey of dance and life). I could see their effort in finding the right terms, expressing the point, also keep the dialogue flowing and be positive in the end. Great facilitator! The dialogue and conversation flow unceasingly during these days, day and night, in the end, the brief found its own life, like the nature around us, full of organic movement.
The differentiation between dancer/choreographer become vague after awhile, although it stays center in our discussion. We quickly find out each participant has a unique physicality also artistic approach, no matter which “role” they will take in the future and how long time it may take to become. In this workshop, we respect and challenge each other as independent thinker, we all try to understand how to dance with consciousness, knowing why this and that and test how far we can possibly go and do. Although seven days may be just an introduction of everything, this workshop opens up many questions to contemplate for a long time: what is dance? where dance comes from? why classical dance? why form? what is contemporary dance? is technique important? why technology? where is the stage? why we want to connect to the nature? and what we disconnect from? Many “big” questions to be answered, and it is exactly all the “truth” we all want to find out in our own artistic journey. The dance or performance are a place for discussion, and a platform to unify the physical intelligence and the mental one, to balance, to negotiate, to position ourselves, to map the world around us.
As the world economy is going down and the culture sector is getting more conservative, and body as a receiving end, there is no just one solution and there is no just one choice; all needs to be considered in local, international and personal context. Maybe being flexible and sensitive are the quality to be proposed in dealing with such complexities.
One day, after I mention about opening door for seeing possibility, Suprapto questions me “Yes, but after opening the door, where do you go?” I ponder this question for a while, and I don’t have the answer yet, because it’s up to each person, based on what exactly he/she sees and how does this experience reflect onto his/her artistic trajectory. Ari (Ersandi, participant), asks me about the concept of the door as well, then we start to talk about time in science, as we always believe time flows in one direction, from the past then now and the future. If we build this, then we might get that, but in fact the space–time is relative, all depends on how you look at it. Nature has its own logic of time and it’s for sure not linear. Benny (Khrishnawardi, instructor) and I also share the thoughts on how we, being dancers for years, slowly shift our energy from focusing on intensity to softness; how we sustain our intention by engaging more inner space than the outward one. I think whether the question on where to go or how time travels, it needs the right timing from how your body manifests itself. The same when Suprapto questions how some dance techniques that were inspired from the nature and yet people lost their link to that origin. He then asks me how I understand the dance technique I learned, to which I answer, it depends since most of the time, I learned it first without knowing why, but maybe after many years, I will have experienced something, then I suddenly realize what it is all about.
I always find it is such an intriguing question how to educate an artist as well as defining the Asian contemporary performing arts, maybe this links to the question when Ari and Suprapto ask me how to communicate with others about something you don’t know or something you don’t feel connected that well. I answer by putting yourself in the equal position and try to talk about it, and it is alright to take a long time first to observe in silence. But can the passivity and softness be the strength? Yes, because we are all there to offer perspective and leave space/freedom for interpretation. The message of Benny’s teaching also offers a wise note, “focus” on one point, at the same time seeing the periphery, feeling how energy flows within you and with others.
Dance, in the end, is a personal journey; strong presence on stage has price to pay in life, and it is never that simple/glorious as we see from the audience seat. As Ramli (Ibrahim, instructor) repeats it for a few times ”It is very difficult!” and that it is up to each participant, to experience it with their own timing.
Su Wen-Chi was invited to be one of four mentors at a week workshop for young dancers organised by Indonesian Dance Festival (IDF), 1-7 May 2016 in Kaldera, Bogor (West Java).