Tue, 22 Aug 2000

'Menggantang Asap' tells moral degradation

By Tuti Gintini

JAKARTA (JP): Leafy bamboo trees drape over a small path in a village. Moonbeams light the path where a convoy of men and women carry a corpse to the cemetery. It's a spooky scene. Some people gasp and flutter in agony. Others just sit around doing nothing and do not care about what is happening.

This was a scene from Menggantang Asap (Expecting the Impossible), a dance choreographed by Gusmiati Suid which opened at the Gedung Kesenian Jakarta International Art Festival 2000 on Saturday night.

Menggantang Asap, performed by Gusmiati's Gumarang Sakti dance troupe, is a continuation of her Api Dalam Sekam (Tinderbox) that also became the opening dance of the 1998 Art Summit Indonesia.

Menggantang Asap tells the story of desperation befalling Indonesia, expressed in West Sumatra's Minangkabau tradition. There is no hope for betterment. Api Dalam Sekam also expresses hardship but in less desperation: from the outside, everything looks good, but in fact there is a ravaging undercurrent that may explode at any time.

In both works, the 58-year-old choreographer uses a dimly lit stage setting. Canes, flames, bamboo long benches and wooden mortar are the basic props in both.

In Api Dalam Sekam, Gusmiati, who was born in West Sumatra, has managed to do well in illustrating the social, economic and political chaos and the destruction of civilization through continuing ethnic conflicts.

Two years ago in August 1920, Gusmiati came out with Menggantang Asap, in which she represented people who have been unrepairably devastated, hopeless and miserable.

When presenting Api Dalam Sekam, Gusmiati still cherished the hope for betterment in the nation's morality. But her dream for a better future has not come true in Menggantang Asap as she has become more blunt in voicing her social criticism.


She not only used movements and a dim stage setting to express her concern over the tragedies. Now in Menggantang Asap, she also uses words.

In some scenes, the dancers cried out phrases like menggunting dalam lipatan (being manipulative) and menohok kawan seiring (betraying friends). The phrases were shouted repeatedly to break the silence on stage.

The Minangkabau culture is indeed rich in wise sayings. With the two phrases the dancers meant to show their disgust about the moral degradation Indonesia is suffering. There is a betrayal of common ideals; there are people who have the heart to betray their friends for their personal gain.

The use of canes for various expressions was highly effective to build nuances on stage and so is the sound of feet stamping on the long wooden benches. The powerful but graceful feet stomping was in fact a repetition of a similar act in Api Dalam Sekam, but it is still fascinating as the latest dance was supposed to be a continuation.

Fury was expressed by way of wild but artistic strong movements, like dynamic spinning and swaying sideways, forward and backward. Movements like holding another dancer against the chest and throwing a partner surely required the dancers' good stamina.

Basic movements were the Minangkabau pencak silat style of fighting. Gusmiati Suid, a 1975 graduate of ASKI art academy in Padang Panjang, West Sumatra, always bases her work on tradition. Her success lies in innovations and this explains why her works are very well-accepted by the international community.

Gusmiati is one of a few Indonesian choreographers with an international reputation. She and her dance company have traveled around the world. From the company's headquarters in Depok, West Java, she has created several works, such as Balega, Limbago, Seruan (Call) and Kabar Burung (Rumors), which have won accolade.

In Menggantang Asap, she was assisted by Beni Krisnawardi and David with choreography, Peterman and Syahrial with the music arrangement and Iskandar K. Loedin with lighting. The dancers are Ivonne Grezelda, Beni Krisnawardi, David, Alfianto, Aistyaningnung, Maria D. Arianti, Peterman, Syahrial, Juni Aswar, Vitra Oktaria and Rhisydul Fahmi.