Wed, 16 Apr 2003

Miroto dances to rhythm of his heart

Suherdjoko, Contributor, Yogyakarta

His deep devotion to dance has brought Martinus Miroto fame and fortune.

At the age of 44, he is a celebrated dancer and choreographer who performs at festivals both locally and internationally -- no longer at wedding parties or village celebrations as he used to in his youth.

And his achievements have recently earned him the trust of Yogyakarta Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, who has asked him to take on a rare task: to work on Arjuna, a dance based on a character from the Mahabharata epic.

"Arjuna symbolizes the life of a man who is quite aware of his existence, so the choreography does not just tell about Arjuna as a figure," Miroto said.

The dance is still being choreographed and no exact date has been announced for a performance.

Born to the late Setyo Martono and Marwiyah, Miroto started to learn how to dance at the age of seven from dance instructor Slamet Asmorohadi. At that time, he was teaching new, contemporary dances based on the classics.

He said he studied dance because he enjoyed watching other children dance.

"My first show in public was shortly after I joined the dance class. At that time, I was asked to perform Karapan Sapi (Maduranese traditional cow race) dance during an Independence Day celebration in the village," Miroto recalled during an interview at his home in Turusan cluster, Banyuraden, which is located on the western outskirts of Yogyakarta.

He continued attending his dance class, which later led him to enroll in the SMKI arts vocational school after he graduated from junior high school. There, he learned many of the classical Javanese dances. At the same time, he also took a modern dance class at Padepokan Seni Bagong Kussudiardja in Bantul.

He used to appear mainly at wedding parties, mostly performing the Karonsih, a romantic dance performed with a partner. He acquired the nickname the Enthit dancer as he regularly performed with the accompaniment of traditional keroncong (music with Indian and Portuguese influences) in a song titled Enthit, which was popularized by noted singer Waljinah.

His persistent and impressive performances caught the eye of dance aficionado Bagiyono, who awarded Miroto a scholarship to study dance at the Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ). Unfortunately, he could only study there a year, mostly due to difficulties he encountered while following modern dance instruction in class.

Being a Javanese dancer for most of his life, Miroto found it difficult to immediately follow the instructions in his modern dance class, making enormous mistakes in the process.

"I decided to return to Yogyakarta," Miroto said.

He then continued his studies at the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) in Yogyakarta and graduated in 1986. He is presently a lecturer at ISI's dance school.

Lessons from IKJ made him aware of the difference between classical and modern dances. He said the difference between the two could be seen from watching the movements.

In Javanese dance, he said, its trademark moves are expressed through ulap-ulap (darting eye movements accompanied by hand gestures near the eyes to add emphasis), while in modern dance, the same movements can be done standing still.

"In this case, the classic dance standard should not pose a problem for someone learning a modern dance," said Miroto, who is renowned for his fine blend of modern Javanese and Western dance movements in his choreography.

"It (blending traditional and modern movements) gives me the energy to continue my search," he said.

IKJ not only taught him the difference between modern and classical dances, but also gave him a chance to meet his guru, noted dancer and choreographer Sardono W. Kusumo.

Miroto said Sardono had helped open up his mind as well as his understanding of dancers being just human beings. He was also intrigued by Sardono's idea to express one's soul through refined dance movements, which should not always be in the form of classical Javanese dances. He also learned from Sardono how to improvise movements in such a way as to yield a sense of depth.

His strong will to study and learn dance made it hard for Miroto, who launched his professional career with his debut in Sampah (Garbage) at the Young Choreographer Festival in 1986, to feel satisfied with his accomplishments.

He furthered his studies at the Folkwang School and Pina Bausch Wuppertal Dance Theatre in Germany, before acquiring a master's degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, U.S.A.

His overseas performances include: Stravinsky-Bijbelse Stukken, a collaboration with Peter Sellars of the Nederlandse Opera staged at the Cane-Amsterdam Theater and Amsterdam Music Center in 1999; Asunder presented in New York and Chicago, a collaboration with Yin Mei in New York in 2001; a collaboration with Angela Liong in Singapore in 2002; and performances at the Dancing Shadows World Music Theater Festival in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2002.

He has proved himself at home by winning Sultan Hamengkubuwono X's trophy as the best refined dance performer in the classical Javanese dance championship in 1996.