our dance piece Cry Jailolo is a meditation on the fragility of the ocean, from tourism promotion to environmental threats to the destruction of coral reefs. Why are you so interested in these issues?
I was invited to work with 350 teenagers for a tourism festival in North Maluku, West Halmahera. I was intrigued by this opportunity to be introduced to maritime culture. I was brought up within Javanese agricultural practices and traditions. Although 80% of Indonesia is made up of water, maritime culture and Eastern Indonesia sits to the periphery of the dominant Javanese culture and agricultural practices.
Both the maritime culture and its environment is fragile.
Through diving I experienced for myself how fragile our oceans and marine life are. Whilst working in Jailolo, with the youth I really started to clearly see the contradictions – here they wanted to be known for tourism but the reality is they were still not properly protecting the marine life, they were destroying the very thing they were promoting.
Through diving and the connection to the community it became really clear this work needed to be a voice, to put ideas on the table – to open discussions around tourism, the environment and the community. During the process of Cry Jailolo the Regent of Jailolo put laws in place to stop bomb fishing. I now call Cry Jailolo a work of Silent Tourism.
Cry Jailolo, 2016. Photo by Bernie Ng, courtesy of Artist and website.
our work often deals with powerful, emotive subjects. How do you go about devising movements to communicate such complex themes?
I always try to find neutral movements that are not related to any character, not symbolising or defining something. Its also impossible, but I try to find a space of neutrality through the physical approach. So it’s not a story that I’m trying to achieve – its a process of exploration through physical movement, neutral moment that can explore the biggest to the smallest things.
Why did you decide to work with untrained dancers?
There is a generational gap in the Jailolo. Children under the age of 12 learn the dancers and rituals and adults over the age of 35 but in-between there is a gap – a disconnection to their own history and vocabularies. North Maluku was a conflict area in the late 90s / early 2000, many people died in this time. I’ts easy for me to work with professional dancers, I have my own company. West Halmahera is a different culture from where I’m coming from – its a real challenge.
How was your experience working with Belgian choreographer Arco Renz?
I have known Arco for a long time already, as a choreographer, an artist who has worked with many artists in the Asian region. Over time I’ve understood his point of view, interest and questions of “Asian-ness” we often come up against and how he interacts and collaborates with many asian dancers, artists and choreographers. Getting to know him as a friend and as a choreographer and now as a creative partner and dramaturge for Cry Jailolo, Balabala and SALT was actually a process for me in understanding the outsider eyes. He brought up many questions and discussions towards neutrality.
“Whilst working in Jailolo … I really started to clearly see the contradictions – here they wanted to be known for tourism but the reality is they were still not properly protecting the marine life, they were destroying the very thing they were promoting.”
ou recently performed this work at the AsiaTOPA Festival in Melbourne. How was it received there?
Great! It’s the second time I’ve been to Melbourne and I really enjoy the city. AsiaTOPA has been a big supporter for the process of Balabala also and its nice to be in the Playhouse – it’s a great sized theatre for these works.
As an artist, do you feel a responsibility to create ‘purpose driven’ works which raise awareness of important issues?
Maybe. But for me, its not about the work and what purpose you are “raising” – I feel erasing the purpose is more constructive. Its actually how you interact with the human beings you work with. How to connect, learn, be inspired. It doesn’t start with a conceptual purpose, its about the connections.
Favourite book? Blood Memory by Martha Graham
Favourite film? Too many
Favourite musician / band? SLANK and Coldplay
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? A diver or a chef
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? No borders