Thu, 17 Jul 2003

'Cak Amaterasu', a perfect marriage of cultures

Kadek Suartaya, Contributor, Denpasar, Bali

Chieko Komatsu and a number of other Japanese women came to Payangan village, a famous art village, inviting 100 farmers to collaborate with them on a multicultural art project.

Chieko and her friends were no ordinary Japanese tourists exploring Bali's beauty. Rather, they are artists currently studying Balinese traditional dances at the Bali Institute of Arts (STSI) in Denpasar.

And the Payangan farmers are not only skillful at cultivating rice fields but also gifted and proficient dancers and gamelan players.

The collaborative performing art project presented 100 Payangan farmers as Cak dancers, while the Japanese artists played roles from Japanese mythology.

The art project, titled Cak Amaterasu, attracted a huge crowd during the 25th Bali Arts Festival at Taman Budaya Denpasar on July 13. The story centered on the Japanese tale of three gods: Amaterasu (the god of the Sun), Tsukuyomi (the god of the moon) and Susanoo (the god of the sea).

The story focuses on Susanoo's bad behavior. Susanoo is portrayed as bad-tempered and a heavy drinker who turns life on earth upside down. Amaterasu feels sad and concerned. She decides to seclude herself in her stone chamber. When Amaterasu enters seclusion, the universe turns dark.

All the gods and goddesses try in vain to persuade Ameterasu to reappear from the chamber. Finally, Amaterasu agrees to end her seclusion only if Susanoo stops drinking sake. The world turns bright again.

This collaborative performance was quite intriguing. It was presented as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Japan Year 2003.

The Cak or Kecak dance is a traditional Balinese dance first performed in the 1930s.

The Kecak dance has been frequently misinterpreted as a monkey dance. This misunderstanding probably came about because many Kecak performances take stories from the famous Indian epic Ramayana. In most Kecak performances, dancers play the roles of monkey soldiers who help King Rama fight the devilish Rahwana.

In fact, the Cak dance is open to any kind of story. I Wayan Dibia, a prominent choreographer, has used the epic Mahabharata as well as local mythology and legends for several Cak performances.

Sardono W. Kusumo, another choreographer, composed Cak Rina in the l970s. American artist Keith Terry collaborated with Wayan Dibia to work on Body-Tjak in l990. Japanese artist Tamashirogumi, who combined the Cak dance with several Japanese ritual mask dances, also had a unique take on the Cak.

In Cak Amaterasu, the Balinese and Japanese artists successfully created a harmonious combination of vocal and body movements. During this multicultural dialog, the artists implicitly reveal a deep sense of brotherhood and convey a message of peace to the audience.

Chieko and 15 other dancers added elements of Japanese dance and art to the performance through the use of Japanese language in their dialog and elaborate Japanese traditional costumes.

The concept of three Japanese deities, Ameterasu, Susanoo and Tsukuyomi, is similar to the Balinese Hindu concept of Trimurti- Brahma the creator, Wisnu the guardian and Siva the destroyer.

In the performance, the birth of Ameterasu, Tsukuyomi and Susanoo was accompanied by the noisy cak, cak,cak chorus.

Ameterasu appeared in red costume and a sparkling white turban. Tsukuyomi wears white cloth with a crescent symbol on the head, while Susanoo is portrayed as a fearsome creature clad in black. The plot of the story was cleverly translated and presented in Javanese and Balinese by a puppet master, Nyoman Sukerta. The dialog was spoken in Japanese by the Japanese dancers.

Cak Ameterasu reached its climax when all the gods performed a special ritual to persuade Ameterasu to emerge from the chamber. The 100 cak dancers held torches and gently swayed, creating a magical atmosphere.