Thu, 30 Aug 2001

Farida's birds reflect the life of human beings

JAKARTA (JP): Birds are usually associated with peace, freedom and love. Their existence as so-called social creatures can be seen from the way they live in groups. It is this topic that has been brought to the stage by noted choreographer Farida Oetojo for the Third Art Summit Indonesia 2001 International Festival on Contemporary Performing Arts.

Inspired by the birds she keeps at home, Farida, a well-known former ballerina, explores the use of body language in her latest work Burung-burung (Birds).

"I have been observing their (bird) behavior and it has been very interesting," she told reporters after Tuesday's final rehearsal at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta (GKJ), Central Jakarta.

Farida uses birds to reflect life, relationships and human characters.

The first five scenes of the performance -- Kedamaian, kebebasan, kasih (Peace, freedom and love), Burung Parkit (Parrots), Burung Jacko (Jacko the bird), Burung Merak Kembar (Peacocks) and Burung berkicau (Singing birds) -- portray the life of birds in their native jungle habitat.

The stage, all white, gives an impression of a park, with plastic lines hanging from the roof symbolizing various vines and creepers. In the background is a smaller but higher stage with a quadrangle pool before it and a ladder.

The show begins with a group of seven dancers, wearing ocean blue and white costumes, who "fly" onto the stage, flapping their wings and running around the stage like a flock of migrating birds.

The dancers, all from Farida's Kreativitat Dance-Indonesia group, switch costumes according to the scenes and the birds they represent.

They are accompanied by piano, string and flute music - composed by Farida's youngest son Sri Aksana Syuman, better known as Wong Aksan and jazz icon Indra Lesmana.

Farida has left some of the scenes serene like Burung Jacko, performed by Jecko Kurniawan, where splashing water is used to illustrate the bird's movement.

"The opening scenes describe various human characters from Indonesia's ethnic tribes," Farida asserted.

Despite the success of the dancers in imitating bird movements, their expressive emotion appears rather flat. The spectator only gets to see a parade of different types of birds.

The only time one can feel some emotion is during Kematian seekor burung (The death of a bird) thanks to an excellent performance by Jonita Sjah as the bird and Chendra Effendy as the hunter.

Both dancers perform mostly in a pool of water, leaving Jonita all wet. She succeeds admirably in evoking a melancholic atmosphere particularly when she portrays a bird facing death.

The scene reflects the greed of human beings who can kill just for fun.

"I have seen many teenagers firing air rifles at birds just to have fun. Why should they kill birds?" Farida said.

However, the scene is cut off with the presence of three punakawan (loyal servants in a traditional puppet story), intended as an intermezzo.

"They only serve as a bridge between scenes and have nothing to do with the main scenes. However, their act is well rehearsed with little improvisation.

"I only included it to give enough time for the dancers to change their costumes. I decided to use it so there wouldn't be any pauses. In the end, the intermezzo also provides a chance for the cleaners to dry the floor, made wet earlier in the performance."

The play continues with a perang (war) scene where human beings -- portrayed by each dancer holding a green fan -- fight each other.

Dan kehidupan berjalan terus (And life goes on) closes the whole performance with the birds giving birth so as to continue the cycle of life.

Farida denied that she was attempting to stage an analogy of the country's current situation.

"I'm not talking about politics here. I want to talk about the cycle of life, its regeneration. That life is a journey." she noted.

However, she admitted that the show was still flawed and has yet to meet her expectations.

"I have only had four months to prepare this performance, which includes the rehearsals. It should take at least one year," said the GKJ management board chairman. (hdn/yan)