Fri, 14 Oct 1994

Modern dance tries to dig up human character

By Carla Bianpoen

JAKARTA (JP): Contemporary Indonesian dance appears to seek inspiration in age-old myths and legends which have been handed down from generation to generation.

The wayang is one such form that has existed in Indonesia since the dawn of history. It was an indigenous religious ritual, usually held at night. Such rituals were mostly held to worship God, but also to relay the stories of ancestral heroes.

A particular feature of these tales which were later blended with the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabarata, is their set of values related to the fundamentals of the human condition. Rich in symbolic meaning, and universal in nature, the wayang has become a timeless source of inspiration.

Preceding the Burning of Sita, to be staged at Graha Bakti Budaya, Taman Ismail Marzuki arts center on Oct. 20, 1994, is a contemporary Indonesian dance based on lyrics inspired by the story of Rama and Sita in the Ramayana epic.

Using Bahasa Indonesia, the lyrics written by Goenawan Mohamad relay the subtle moments of love, the emerging doubt on Rama's part and resignation on Sita's part, followed by an intolerable struggle of the soul wrestling between apprehension and love. For some people it could well be a reflection of the dilemma in which a ruler finds himself when having to choose between what he thinks and what others advise him to do. For feminists, the act of burning refers to the customary vulnerable status of women and the usual domination by males. In fact it is a reflection of the male-female relationship.

Story line

After 13 years of being imprisoned by Rahwana, Sita is back with her consort Prince Rama in Alengka and life returns to normal. At least, so it seems. But rumors whispered among the people of Alengka start questioning Sita's faithfulness to Rama. Could she possibly have escaped the power of the man who held her captive for almost 13 years? One day in the Argasoka gardens, when Rama and Sita are enjoying their togetherness, the sounds of such insinuations become louder and louder. At first Rama is shocked. He has not had the faintest doubt about Sita's faithfulness. The struggle between love and doubt commences. Increasing doubt grows into agony, and Sita even becomes doubtful of herself. In a circling debate with his inner self, and with Sita, his beloved but suspected consort, nothing is clear anymore. As the lyric reads "what actually is loyalty and what is disloyalty, what is pure and what is not." To get rid of this agonizing uncertainty, and to rid himself of the embarrassment before his people, Rama decides that Sita must be burnt. With great dignity Sita throws herself into the raging flames, with Rama's last words still reflecting his dilemma: "But I love you, don't you die now in the midst of non-understanding."

The cast

I Ketut Rina and Restu Imansari Kusumaningrum take the roles of Rama and Sita. They are two dancers who have had long personal experience with traditional as well as contemporary dance.

I Ketut Rina, who is the choreographer taking the role of Rama in the Preceding the Burning of Sita, received his first dance instruction when he was only four years old. His teacher was Sardono W. Kusumo. He was still a boy when Sardono selected him to feature in Sardono's then controversial creation Cak Tarian Rina. A graduate of the STSI Art School in Denpasar, Bali, Rina has come a long way. He began performing abroad at the age of eight in countries such as France, Italy and Germany. His performances have also been enjoyed in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Japan, Vietnam, Canada and Iran. In addition, he has been trained as a dalang. Today I Ketut Rina continues to explore the vast world of Indonesian traditional art in pursuit of an ever increasing contribution to contemporary Indonesian dance.

The second dancer is Restu Imansari Kusumaningrum. An accomplished dancer of various Indonesian dances, including the Gending Sriwijaya from South Sumatra, the Serimpi and Bedoyo from Java, and the Legong from Bali, Restu has participated in national and international performances led by the widely acclaimed Sardono W. Kusumo. She also participated in Panji Sepuh which was successfully staged in Indonesia and Australia.


A remarkable feature is the concept which has brought together a variety of players, who in spite of their different cultural backgrounds, interests and different ways of expression, have succeeded in complementing each other towards the accomplishment of innovative creation. Goenawan Mohamad, whose book Sidelines is being launched in Australia, has written beautiful lyrics, marking the atmosphere of love and intense sadness. Goenawan's cooperation with Tonny Prabowo has been instrumental in giving direction to shaping the mood.

Tonny, whose compositions have accompanied local and international performances and installations of traditional as well as contemporary nature, has come up with a composition which is fitting in all its simplicity. What is more, he has made it in such a way that it allows participation of traditional musicians usually supporting the wayang shadow performances of the Radio Republik Indonesia.

Nyak Ina Raseuki, who has a Masters in ethnomusicology from the University of Wisconsin, is a key element in this. She sings the lyrics with her beautiful voice, bringing in the nuances of joy and intense sadness, as Rama and Sita express their feelings in their own style.

Most innovatively is how I Ketut Rina has worked with Restu Imansari and the other members of the team to synchronize and bring all the different elements in one impressive choreography of contemporary innovation. For the audience, it will hardly be an issue whether the dance sprouted from Javanese, Balinese or any other culture. There will just be the image of an Indonesian contemporary dance. The producer of the dance is Adilla Soewarmo.

The dance is one of four performances which will be staged at the Graha Bakti Budaya, Taman Ismail Marzuki on Oct. 20, 1994. It is part of a five-day dance festival in which local and international dance troupes participate. The international dance performances take place at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta.