photo Phalla San
S]h]elf, a collection of loosely bound short episodes, opens the second night of the 10th Indonesian Dance Festival. Next, the protagonists are busily quarrelling. Exchanging extra-large t-shirts they are soon entangled. Awkwardly bound they mouth Barbie doll interactions of the “I love you, but I hate you too” and the “Get away, but don’t leave me alone” kind. Welcome, say the program notes, to the world of South Jakartan, affable, middle-class youngsters.
Another scene has Anggie moving slowly from the periphery to centrestage, stopping after each little step, upper body leaning, shaking uncontrollably. Only her feet and fists are held firm, as if she wants to run away but can’t. She grimaces: is she crying or laughing? Is she drugged? It takes her an eternity to reach the front of the stage. Looking straight at the audience, she burps. “Give me a break. To hell with your social conventions," she seems to say. In another episode, Ajeng turns a roll of toilet paper into a mock camera, 'shooting' the dozens of people in the audience whose cameras have produced endless clicking ever since the performance commenced.
Performed by Ajeng Soelaiman (born 1984) and Andara 'Anggie' Firman Moeis (born 1986), and choreographed in collaboration with Fitri Setyanigsih (born 1978)—all rising stars of the Indonesian dance scene—the work is fun, unfussy and has an air of ironic coolness. The set consists of two mobile glass revolving doors and metallic cubic frames hanging low from above, suggesting the worlds of entertainment and shopping. The performance is a self-portrait; drawing on their own lives the women play themselves, and they do so convincingly, with touches of self-irony.
What does it mean to be female, young, well-off and sophisticated in a Muslim society? At one point, Ajeng uses lipstick to draw a heart on glass, but her hand slips and the drawing becomes a confused mess of lines. Later, she stands in front of a glass door, facing the audience, in full evening dress. Radiating an amiable elegance, she bends to one side as if is about to dance. The music is a soothing, chill-out waltz. Gracefully, she raises her hand and gives the audience the finger. Or is the glass frame actually a mirror, and is she signalling self-disgust?
Whether rebellion or self-examination, it's a fleeting gesture. At the end of the work, the two young women stand around a table of wine glasses, as if at a party. While Ajeng plays with two glasses, bored, pouring wine from one to another, Anggie, in a continuous slow motion loop, drains the dark content of each glass in a mouthful, throws the empty over her shoulder and reachs for another. There is no loud smashing of glass, no emotional crisis, no theatrical breakdown, just the embracing comfort of boredom. It’s the end of the party. Too tired for anything wild, the pair choose to stay in air-conditioned comfort, souls numb, surrounded by broken glass and broken hearts.
10th Indonesian Dance Festival: S]h]elf, performed and choreographed by Ajeng Soelaimanand Andara Firman Moeis with Fitri Setyanigsih;Teater Luwes, Jakarta, June 15
Giang Dang is a Hanoi-based journalist, editor and cultural activist.
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