Global Media Post (Zori Engelbrecht)



Despite our proximity, the contemporary dance of Indonesia rarely makes it to our shores, so it is not surprising for audiences here to eagerly grasp an opportunity to experience it.   Happily, the 2015 OzAsia Festival has provided such an opportunity with its performance of The Streets by Teater Garasi from Jogyakarta at the AFC’s Space Theatre from September 24 to 26.

Asian contemporary dance often mixes traditional forms of dance with modern styles, so it was enlightening to discover more about how this form is developing in our closest neighbouring nation.

The Streets could be summarised as a physical theatre performance that delivers a busy depiction of life on the streets of Jakarta into our very own sitting space to peruse at our leisure, which is 0verlain with politico-philosophical commentary on issues of contemporary Indonesian society.

Upon entering the flat-floor layout of the Space Theatre, audiences see they have the option of sitting on the floor on either side of the performance space where Indonesian street-style performers move, one cracking a whip, while others walk around as if going about their daily affairs.  Someone else lies motionless, mysteriously rolled up in a grass mat sheltering  under a simple roof-like structure, and a Caucasian woman rides a striking yellow bicycle.

As the performance begins, large elevated black screens on either side of the performance space display statements in English by various philosophers and Indonesian social commentaries… Later on, these screens are intermittently used to translate into English the occasional Indonesian  spoken by the performers.  The show consists of over an hour of a concentrated selection of vignettes painting a portraiture of life on Indonesian city streets, mostly through pedestrian-inspired movement and gestures.

Near the beginning of the piece, an occasional dancer moving in a Western-inspired style briefly adds to the ambiance of diversity, contrasting starkly with the movement style of the other performers.  At one point, a dancer moving in a contemporary style heavily influenced by traditional Indonesian style marries the two for a fleeting moment, before surrendering once again to the familiarity of the street.

The main overarching theme of the performance is the chaos of the Indonesian city streets.  At one point, it is declared that over 700 ethnic groups are represented there.  The series of vignettes melt into one another and comprise the entire piece that seems carefully designed to emphasise this complex chaos, raising questions about clashes between different elements.

At one point, the movements of a police officer, almost violent in their forcefulness, seem to evoke a feeling of futility of being able to control his environment.  Corrugated iron is another recurring theme, being used to good effect in many different ways throughout.  Meanwhile, the performers evoking the scene of a marketplace, use it to shield themselves in various choreographed ways, while  in another scene, dancers wearing long tubes of corrugated iron over their heads seem as if drowning in it.  This image is presumably intended to highlight the inescapable effect of this material on the city streets.

The piece includes devices that seem intended to transport the audience to the streets for jarring visceral effect.  For a few minutes, a construction tool growls noisily to  the side, thus creating a plume of bright orange sparks as the performers carry on as if not noticing this aggressive interruption.  This forces the audience to share the performers’ intensely disruptive experience, presumably a familiar occurrence in the city streets being described.

At another point, a dancer bangs her fist onto the corrugated iron structure for similar effect.  At various times, a performer passing a collection container full of money confronted the viewer with the feelings of encountering street beggars.  Near the end, a man humping a rolled up mat epitomises the discomfort of living in close proximity to people one would not choose to associate with, which ultimately living in these city streets entails.

With no encompassing musical theme, voice and music were used at specific points in the piece.  A woman delivers a speech about Indonesian society from a platform.  A modern band plays an Indonesian pop song.  An old woman sings a traditional song.  These all contribute to the collection of perspectives included in  the helpless chaos, adding to the visceral effect.

Despite the clarity of overall intentions, it was sometimes difficult to infer intended meaning from individual scenes, through which allusions seemed at times to be relatively opaque to the Australian viewer.   For example, why did the whore in the red dress laugh inexplicably at the moment she did?   Why did the stage hand interrupt the piece to move the platform so conspicuously?   And, why did the man at the end play badminton only with himself?  These are just some of the questions that were left unanswered.

Certainly The Streets introduces Australian audiences to the flavour and direction of Indonesian contemporary dance and physical theatre by exploring the complexity of perspectives it must encompass to truly represent Indonesia.  It evokes the ambience of a south-east Asian marketplace while integrating more serious themes that question the direction of Indonesian society.

Judging by the applause at the end, the OzAsia Festival audience greatly appreciated this rare glimpse of Jakarta street life.

Reviewed by Zori Engelbrecht and edited by Felicity Rai

Directed by Yudi Ahmad Tajudin, The Streets is supported by the Cultural Department of The Special Region of Yogyakarta.