The Beauty, Ritual and Art of Dayak Dance

The renowned choreographer Dedy Lutan recently presented his latest work, Hutan Pasir Sunyi, or The Silent Sand Forest, at Galeri Indonesia Kaya in the Grand Indonesia shopping center in Central Jakarta.

The performance opened with a woman lit by a spotlight, emerging from the darkness. Then, two men in loincloths — one older and thoughtful, one younger and unbridled — entered the venue while a young girl, resplendent in a traditional Dayak costume of beaded sapei inoq shirt and ta skirt, danced solemnly and precisely across the stage.

A group of stone-faced men, apparently elders, entered and took their seats up front as the action unfolded below. More women clad in similar costumes came on stage, all holding elaborate feather arrangements in their hands as they danced.

Soon, a group of outsiders, all women, bearing machetes and clad in what looked to be simple leather costumes, stood up from their seats in the audience and went to challenge the feathered dancers.

As the young man ran up the stairs of the amphitheater, whooping amid the adults and many children in the crowd, the women waged a stylized battle that culminated with the woman in silhouette staring down the outsiders, who turned their machetes on themselves.

The troupe — elders and warriors alike — then began orbiting the younger man, sweat streaming down his face, before conflict turned to stasis and the performance ended.

Dedy, the nation’s foremost choreographer, has spent decades visiting Dayak communities in the remote forests of Kalimantan, meeting dance maestros, learning their rituals and then staging their dances in Jakarta — after performing his interpretation for the local community, of course.

He says that dances such as Hutan Pasir Sunyi are not examples of art for the sake of art: they have ritual importance as well as beauty.

“Creating a dance needs lengthy and solitary contemplation,” Dedy said. “It’s never been an instant and quick process.”

Galeri Indonesia Kaya, which offers free exhibits about Indonesian culture, lies just opposite the Blitz megaplex — an odd juxtaposition of storytelling venues.

The gallery’s 150-seat amphitheater, however, makes for a surprisingly intimate performance space.

Meanwhile, Dayak and Javanese dancers from Surakarta, Central Java, presented a more elaborate version of Hutan Pasir Sunyi at the Bogor Botanical Gardens on May 14 — an environment closer to the forests of Kalimantan than the malls of Jakarta.

– Christian Razukas –


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