Jakarta. German choreographer Katia Engel took her cues from dance mask artisans in Yogyakarta for her interpretive number "From Starting to Cut the Wood," performed at Komunitas Salihara in South Jakarta on Saturday (17/06).
"I learned mask-making some years ago. I went to Yogyakarta to do more research to translate the process into a performance. In the end the work becomes quite philosophical," Engel told reporters after the final rehearsal on Friday.
To Engel, mask-making is a perfect symbol of a slower, more traditional way of life that has not been eroded by modernization.
Her multidimensional choreography began with a sound recording of mask-maker Enosh Mujiran describing his work in Javanese, accompanied by the sound of crowds and animals.
"They're real life sounds we recorded in [Enosh's] village," Engel said.
Dancer Ari Ersandi then entered the all-black stage accompanied by the sound of wood saws.
A video played in the background, showing philosophical quotes explaining the messages of the dance.
The sounds of the hand saw — the only music in the show — were followed by the sounds of hand chisels, sandpaper and then a choir, before the dancer made his exit.
"The idea is for Ari to follow the sounds of artisans making a dance mask. After the mask is finished, [it is as if] he is finally given a life," Engel said.
Mask-maker Enosh replaced Ari on stage, pulling half-finished masks and supplies from a bag and started working on one of them. He tried it on, and then the stage went black.
Getting Into Character
Choreographer Engel said she tried to keep a balance between improvisations and structure for her show.
"We had very clear structures, themes and spatial patterns for each scene. But not all of the movements were fixed because we wanted to keep it real and add spontaneity," Engel, who studied at the Dance Institute in Bremen and Laban-Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York, said.
Dancer Ari said he was given ample room to experiment.
"My task was to express [Engel's] visions. I took note of the structures she laid down and after each rehearsal, she would evaluate and pick movements that best convey her message," Ari said.
The character Ari performed was based on the character of the giant Indrajit, the son of evil king Rahwana in the Indian epic Ramayana, a recurring story in Javanese wayang performances.
"I tried to express some of his frightening qualities in my dance moves," Ari said.
An early, simpler version of From Starting to Cut the Wood was performed in 2015 in Yogyakarta, supported by Institut Français.
"I was worried the piece was too abstract, but it did work even then," Engel said.
The German choreographer has had her work performed at the Singapore International Film Festival, The Tokyo/Yokohama International Dance Festival and the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.
The show at Salihara was part of its Helatari dance festival.