Fri, 21 Mar 2003

Sensual water dance creates magical moments

Tarko Sudiarno, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta

Four women swirled sensually inside a pool with their wet, white clothes hugging their bodies. The smell of burnt incense and flower fragrance hung heavy in the air, creating magic moments among the dim lights from candles floating in the pool.

The four royal maids chatted freely in the pool where only a king could visit. But the atmosphere turned into a deep silence when a beautiful women carrying incense descended from the cascading water toward them.

Wrapped in batik cloth with a parang motif, the woman walked gracefully, letting her long, straight hair flow freely to her ankles. She was Kanjeng Ratu Kidul (the mystical queen of the South Seas), the consort of Mataram kings. That night, she wanted to enjoy herself at the Tamansari pool, now the Yogyakarta palace's water park.

Near the pool, from behind an old, white curtain covering a window, one could see a silhouette of two people making love on a wooden bed. The silhouette represented a historical big screen of the kings' private lives along with the people around them.

The scene -- not only about two lovers and their desire but also the Javanese style of intimacy between a husband and wife -- was part of a so-termed architectural choreography titled Tamansari Mangsa Rendheng presented by Hendro Martono and Baghawan Ciptoning as part of their final postgraduate assignment at Surakarta-based Indonesia Arts Institute (STSI).

In their work, the two choreographers revitalized the Tamansari water castle from various dimensions, claiming that the choreography could be applied as a model to view and treat ancient buildings within a context of preservation.

Tamansari, built in 1684 during the reign of Sultan Hamengku Buwono I, is unique for its architecture influenced by Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Javanese and Islamic designs. Besides being used as a site where kings could rest or have pleasure, it was also a meditation site for the kings and a water-enclosed hiding fort.

For the performance, the choreographers tried to blend all the elements. For instance, in order to represent the past and present environment, the audience was entertained with past and present activities around Tamansari by bringing onto the stage women selling jamu (traditional herbal medicines), batik traders and bird vendors, all of which romanticized the image of Yogyakarta as a town of bicycles.

To enliven the atmosphere of the past in Tamansari and its surroundings, the two choreographers reconstructed the function of the building and interpreted the behavior of people living there, involving history, landscape architecture, the performing arts as well as social and spiritual elements.

For instance, to convey to the audience thoughts of the Gedong Sekawan, four buildings in Tamansari yard, they staged Srimpi Gelas (traditional Javanese dance), modern dances and Morisco keroncong (traditional Javanese music and songs), as well as providing some snacks. Then, in the bathing pools -- which comprise Umbul Binangun, Umbul Kuras and Umbul Muncar, they presented worldly, happy moments as well as physical rites.

Later on, in the Pasarean Ledhoksari, a hidden compound made up of bedrooms and a sauna room, they presented the daily activities of the queens, including their private moments with the kings.

In order to build to the ritual climax, the two choreographers exploited Sumur Gumuling, a round building, which used to be a meditation site of the king. In creating a ritual atmosphere, the two-story passage at Sumur Gumuling was decorated with candles and incense where two singers belted out songs to accompany the scene where four female dancers and four male dancers struggled toward the Creator.

Through the performance, the choreographers, in their own unique way, tried to show their stance toward the ancient building, now under threat from the presence of residential buildings and economic activities in the area. They hoped the choreography would open up a new way of looking at cultural conservation: When physical conservation is combined with cultural activity, the result is a living monument, an heirloom for the future.