Australian Dance Reviews

EkosDance Company brings Indonesian culture to Sydney Festival

EkosDance Company's 'Balabala'. Photo by Jamie Williams.
EkosDance Company's 'Balabala'. Photo by Jamie Williams.

Carriageworks, Sydney.
January 8, 2017. 

As part of this year’s Sydney Festival, Indonesia’s EkosDance Company brought us two intriguing dance works: first, the world premiere season of Balabala for the women, and then Cry Jailolo for the men. Both pieces, choreographed by EkosDance Company Founder Eko Supriyanto, used recorded music, with some speech included. And both were very simply presented with no set as such but with atmospheric, dramatic lighting.

EkosDance Company's 'Balabala'. Photo by Jamie Williams.

EkosDance Company’s ‘Balabala’. Photo by Jamie Williams.

Balabala, a world premiere, with a cast of five women, was strong, powerful and hypnotic. It is founded on the Pencak Silat (Indonesian martial arts) philosophy of the nine directions and examines the multiple roles of women in Indonesia. Slow, isolated movements are contrasted with strong ensemble work. I was in some ways reminded of Martha Graham’s forceful, dynamic and intense oeuvre.

A sense of great power and strength is created through the slow movements with a feeling of sculpting in space. There is much repetition. The five dancers, with their straight backed regal bearing and tightly scraped hair, are barefoot. All are in black, but each costume is subtly different. The cast always has a slightly remote, neutral expression. Sinuous, snaky arms are combined with sculptural poses, jumping and stamping. Sometimes, there are short, free, joyous “explosions” of solos; at other points, the unison work is extremely controlled and measured. In one section, arms are crossed above the dancers’ heads, or hands are on their hips for some of the jumping, turning and stamping. In another, it is as if they are sowing, scattering seed for a harvest.  

Lighting is delicately luminous with glorious washes of colours. The music is pulsating at times, breathy at others, and the soundscape includes squishy rain sound effects.

A woman’s work is never done — the work ends in darkness, with the sound of slapping feet continuing.

EkosDance Company's 'Cry Jailolo'. Photo by Jamie Williams.

EkosDance Company’s ‘Cry Jailolo’. Photo by Jamie Williams.

Cry Jailolo, for the impressive cast of seven men, was rather trance-like and repetitive. The cast, in red shorts, are topless and barefoot, with whitened palms and a white line on their legs. It is extremely demanding physically and full of complicated counts and rhythms that are clapped, stamped and, in parts, briefly chanted.

The work is based on a deceptively simple hop/jump/stamp and developments/variations thereof, and also includes various rippling, fluid and floating, sculptural arm movements, a trademark of Indonesian dance. Sometimes, the movers reminded me of flying fish.

Cry Jailolo opens in darkness, with an extended solo by a single performer who establishes the rhythm. Mostly, the fleet footwork consists of a step on the spot or backward and forward, or perhaps sideways – interrupted sometimes by an energetic solo by an individual or various jumps. The precise ensemble work brings to mind things like the darting ebb and flow of fish, military formations and the elegantly formal Indonesian court dances. The dancers’ synchronisation is extremely impressive, and their explosive energy is tightly focused and controlled.

EkosDance Company's 'Cry Jailolo'. Photo by Jamie Williams.

EkosDance Company’s ‘Cry Jailolo’. Photo by Jamie Williams.

When the pulsating soundtrack by Setyawan Jayantoro becomes more frantic, electronic and industrial,  the story of Indonesia’s North Maluku islands is further revealed. Supriyanto spent two years researching the local community of Jailolo and the beautiful coral sea which lies beneath it. Environmental degradation is now threatening the previously untouched region, and this work is a passionate response to that. But Cry Jailolo also examines the relationship between individual and communities and the change that permeates through both. The relentlessly driven cast performed with enormous energy, passion and commitment .

By Lynne Lancaster of Dance Informa.

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