Sun, 05 Jan 2003

Sardono cherishes his good luck

==================== Tantri Yuliandini The Jakarta Post Jakarta ---------------------

Some say success is made out of 90 percent hard work and 10 percent talent, but famed Indonesian dancer and choreographer Sardono Waluyo Kusumo say luck has plenty to do with his success.

"To tell you the truth I was very lucky. There were probably a lot of other people better than me, I was just lucky," the 57- year-old said in an interview recently.

Sardono, or Mas Don as he is affectionately known, said he was lucky to have the patronage of former Jakarta governor Ali Sadikin who helped him become what he is today -- one of Indonesia's most renowned and respected dancers.

"Ali Sadikin could respond to (the artists') needs. Today's artists aren't so lucky (to have such patronage)," he said.

One of the former governor's most valuable contributions to the Jakarta art scene, according to Mas Don, was the establishment of Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) arts center in Cikini Raya, Central Jakarta and the Jakarta Board of Arts (Dewan Kesenian Jakarta) in 1968.

"For myself, if it wasn't for Taman Ismail Marzuki I wouldn't be able to dedicate fully (to my work). It was because that every time I create something there was an audience and feedback, whether insulting or praising. They are what motivated me (to create)," he recalled.

Mas Don remembered when TIM was the center of arts and culture in Indonesia, "whatever (art development) happened in the regions, they all made their way to TIM. Choreographers from Bali, Surakarta in Central Java, Bandung, Makassar, Irian (Papua), all came, performed and we all shared (our knowledge). We examined each other's works and we interacted".

Art is about being in the middle of society, he said, how an artist could express his work in the middle of society. Being in touch with society was the way for arts to thrive without losing touch with its surroundings, he added. On the other hand, society would not be able realize the importance of arts in their lives when opportunities for performances and art discussions are limited.

"This need other people who aren't artists. It needs producers, critics and the media. I see there are a lot of artists around but they don't interact with society because there are no venues to do it. There are no public spaces for society to meet the artists' work," Mas Don said.

"I survived because I expanded my work beyond Indonesia and I already have a long track record. Before that, I was fortunate, I worked at TIM, I was given the facility," he said, explaining that it was only because of his experiences at TIM that he was "strong" enough to take on the international community.

Born in Surakarta, Central Java, on March 6, 1945, Mas Don was introduced into the world of Javanese dance at the age of 11 by his Pencak Silat (traditional martial arts) teacher R. Ng. Kridosoekatgo - a Silat expert who was in service at the Surakarta palace at the time.

"In his opinion dance is a higher form of Silat. If you learn Silat, you will be able to paralyze the attack of an enemy. With dance, you can paralyze your aggressive intentions before the attack has chanced to appear," he said in an article published over the Internet titled Hanuman, Tarzan, Pithecanthropus Erectus (2001).

Mas Don's early dance teachers included R.Ng. Atmokesowo who taught him the ropes and the refined dance styles of the classical Javanese dances, and R.Ng. Wignyo Hambekso who taught him to be free with his movements and expressions.

His golden days as a classical Javanese dancer came in the 1960s with roles such as Rama, Hanuman, and Rahwana in the Ramayana epic performed with Sendratari Ramayana Prambanan, then appointed to perform with the government troupe to the New York World Fair in 1964.

Explorations beyond the world of the classical Javanese dance resulted from his interaction with international dancers at the World Fair, like the Jean Erdman Theater of Dance in New York, which in his own words, Mas Don made some "strange experiments".

But these did not go unnoticed. In 1968 he became the youngest member of the newly established Jakarta Board of Arts.

"The Jakarta Board of Arts was amazing at the time. They saw my work in Surakarta and wrote a letter asking me to become one of its board of directors. They gave me a Jakarta ID card and told me to move to Jakarta and I was only 23 years old, can you imagine," Mas Don said.

His innovation included the Samgita Pancasona (1969-1970), which the late scholar Umar Kayam called the "Indonesian contemporary dance", but received heavy criticism from the traditional Javanese public in Surakarta. Indeed, Mas Don does not see the dance as a static art too ingrained in its own tradition to expand, but as a writhing, wriggling, dynamic animal, based on tradition but continually renewing itself and exploring ways for invigoration. For this view, Mas Don was to meet a lot of criticism and complaints from traditionalists.

His breaking down walls of tradition did not stop with Javanese dances, in Teges Kanginan village in Bali, too, he gave new life to the kecak dance of Walter Spies, rooted from the traditional sanghyang trance dance of Bali.

"Sardono's kecak was more dynamic, energetic, involving a lot more movements and sounds that the old kecak, which was performed sitting down," I Ketut Rina, Mas Don's pupil and successor of his Cak Tarian Rina, said in an earlier interview.

Mas Don's exploration of traditional dances further took him to Papua with the Asmat tribe of the marshes and the highland Dani tribe, and to the hinterland of Kalimantan to the Dayak people of Modang and Kenyah.

"My work is to search into the future through the past to recover the essential link between man and nature. I dance the man who has lost his cultural roots, or from whom they have been torn, wandering in our contemporary forests," he once said after receiving the Prince Claus Awards from Den Haag-based independent foundation The Prince Claus Fund in 1997. The award, which he received together with art critic and curator Jim Supangkat, made him "guardian" and "interpreter" of Indonesian arts in foreign countries.

His work included the environment-themed 1979 Meta Ekologi (Meta-Ecology), the 1983 Hutan Plastik (Plastic Forest), 1987 Hutan yang Merintih (Groaning Forest), and the critically acclaimed Mahabhuta (1988).

The 1993 Passage through the Gong was well received at Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival in New York, and in October 1994 at the Indonesian Dance Festival Mas Don performed Detik-Detik, Tempo, from midnight until dawn, to protest the disbandment of medias Detik, Tempo, and Editor.

"That was the last time I felt TIM functioned as it should. The last time I felt there was an interaction between society and the artist, in this case me, and the infrastructure exists (to support that interaction)," Mas Don said.

If his work found more venue abroad than in Indonesia - his work Soloensis was performed in Hamburg, Germany and Seoul, Korea, as well as Jakarta in 1997, and at the Rio Earth Summit in 1999, and Nobody's Body at the opening of the Esplanade in Singapore last year and in Jakarta last month -- it was more because of a lack of performing venues here than by choice.

"(The existing venues) aren't enough. There's too little money and not enough space. When TIM's theaters existed there was a place for small productions, big productions and medium productions. Look at it now, the theaters has been torn down," Mas Don said.

Without proper support and enough freedom, "I can only take pity on our artists", he said, "it's bad he has to think about what to eat for his next meal as well as find time to practice and create".