by Bintang Perkasa
This was the second time Namarina Youth Dance (NYD) and its “partner in crime” Sacred Bridge organized art performances that reflect the reality of today’s Jakarta and its social conditions. The first successful collaboration was called “FOCUS” and the second, (which was held last month on August 3rd-4th, 2019) was called “NYD at the Museum: SoulSphere of Jakarta” at the National Museum of Indonesia.
On behalf of Sacred Bridge I am honored to be able to help NYD explore the concept of “SoulSphere of Jakarta”. Apart from serving as a member of the committee, I also happened to be in the audience on the second day. Therefore, the review that I am writing here stems from my personal perspective, both as a member of the committee and an audience participant.
Since joining Sacred Bridge I have experienced a lot within the arts and for around one year I have been learning about the various art forms that can represent the 21st century. Locality, collaboration, interconnectedness and role and function are among the keywords I am exploring; simple words yet difficult to put into practice. Nevertheless, NYD tried to interpret those words through the form of artistic performance, a form I would like to call “360 degree art performance”(not to be confused with “holistic arts”).
21st century Jakarta: Past and Present
Before we discuss more about the 360° art performance, we first need to look at the fundamental concept of what NYD wants to deliver so that we have an understanding as to why such a form was initially chosen.
At the onset, NYD proposed that this performance would serve as a response to Jakarta’s looming environmental issues such as wastes and air pollution. After some deliberation it was decided that it would be better to highlight the people and socio-political climate of Jakarta. This stems from the notion that environmental deterioration lies intangible aspects: the changes in people’s behavior which increasingly reflects selfishness, ignorance, intolerance, distrust, corruption, diminishing identity and narrow-mindedness.
If we look back to around 400 years ago, the Jakartans did not seem to behave in such a way. Archaeological evidence suggests that Jakarta used to be a multi-cultural city where people were open-minded and tolerance was fully embraced. Nevertheless, Jakarta’s history is not free from problems as horrific battles, injustice, slavery, and massacres have taken place. One should acknowledge and marvel at the fact that this city has managed to endure and survive all these conflicts and divisions. The Betawi culture, which arose out of the winding process of multi-cultural integration throughout the mid 19th century is testament to such endurance.
The past and present, like pieces of a puzzle, are arranged by NYD to help them envision the ideal Jakarta, the dreams of which they subsequently share with the audience.
Art as a Medium for Social Experimentation
The concept manifested is a unique approach to storytelling. Unlike other NYD performances, which are usually held in theatrical buildings, the National Museum of Indonesia served as the venue for this event. This particular choice of venue not only reflected the vast diversity of Indonesia, but also served as an amalgamation of the past, present and future. The museum and its’ artifacts represented the past, the visitors the present; and both are manifested as visions and lessons for the future.
Since this performance focused on Jakarta and Betawi culture, the spirit of communality in both cultures must be recognized. The art forms of Betawi culture predominantly serve as social interactions; from words of wisdom, opinions, and criticisms – which are usually delivered with a humorous approach. Therefore, equality, togetherness and solidarity best illustrate what Jakarta (and Betawi) previously represented. This “social interaction” becomes the basis of NYD’s narrative, staging, decorations, backdrop and seating arrangements.
The performance was divided into three acts that represented the three different timelines. The Past reflected the high tolerance and open-mindedness that Jakartans once had, which was illustrated by the multi-cultural integration and the birth of Betawi culture. The Present portrayed the diminishing identity, values and wisdom of Jakarta, depicted by the contemporary problems such as greed, conflicts, and divisions in the choreography. The Future – which is a synthesis of the past and present – demonstrated the ideal Jakarta: the city that embraces changes without losing its identity. In the finale, the dancers and the audience danced together.
The three timelines were divided into two different stages. The Past and Present was performed on the first stage whilst The Present and Future were on the second stage. During the performance the audience were invited to walk from one stage to the other, both being designed to be on the same level as the audience. This was done to symbolize equality and solidarity as well as breaking down the boundaries/barrier between the performers and the audience.
The seating arrangement was not what you would usually expect. The audience had various options in which they could choose to experience the event. One could sit on the floor or stand, (particularly for youngsters) or alternatively sit on chairs and benches (particularly useful for the elders). The first stage was arranged in a 360° setting, which symbolized “collective contemplation”. The second stage had a normal seating arrangement where the audience was invited to look ahead of time.
All elements of this performance (the venue, plot, backdrop and seating arrangements) not only provided a bridge to understand Jakarta’s history and identity, but also served as a reminder that people can live in the moment; feeling the struggle within their own society whilst simultaneously appreciating the beauty of their city. To understand our condition is to understand the past, to be aware of today’s potentials and threats as well as possessing the capability to foresee the future. This is the concept that NYD wanted to deliver to its audience.
360° Art Performance
All of the aforementioned aspects contribute to my description of the event as a “360° art performance,” although this in itself is merely a starting point to help illustrate what I intend to deliver in this review (it also has a contagious ring to it!). In its purest form, it is a form of art that represents the social conditions of a society; where interactions are unavoidable, arts are integrated, the audience/performer boundaries are dissolved and the synergizing of the space/time continuum is transmitted. It serves as a mockup of the physical and social infrastructure of the surrounding environment. Much like clockwork, it is an art performance inspired by society for society – a form of art reminiscent of a festival.
I still clearly remember when Sacred Bridge co-founder, the late Serrano G. Sianturi told me that the real festival is a cultural (not economical) manifestation organized by, for and from its local community to self-reliantly sustain their culture. A festival reflects the pattern of thoughts and behaviors of its community, which I found very different from today’s art or the so-called traditional festivals which are often organized by the local government, entertainment moguls or giant companies, which usually ignore the cultural background. Perhaps this is one of many reasons why local identity is often distorted and its local wisdom dwarfed.
I do not want to call “SoulSphere of Jakarta” a festival since it was not meant to become one. Nevertheless, it has a similar spirit and energy of a festival; it is materialized by different individuals who share the same objective, it serves as a platform to sustain and re-learn about their roots and identity, it is inspired by and given back to the community and it manages to show the very struggle of its community.
The Significance of 360° Art Performance
We live in a world where divisions are growing and “ME and I” is everything. This is the reason why a sense of communalism, not only individualism, must also be upheld. Since technological advancements have enabled everyone to create independently, people have also started to think that collaboration is no longer necessary – hence an over-emphasis on individualism. For instance, one no longer needs an orchestra to play a symphony, computer software and a skill in sound mixing will enable an individual to recreate the experience of whole orchestra, which is not really a problem until everybody starts utilizing the same approach.
With the many forms of art that underline togetherness, 360° art performance is one that offers us abundant possibilities not only in the field of arts but also science and conscience (spirituality). For example, since 360° art performance is a mockup of a real life experience, it becomes a platform to exercise our sensitivity to live together, comprehend mutual perspectives and respect in daily practices. For science it could become a reference to build a new model (especially in sociology, politics and economics), while for spirituality it enables us to exercise our senses of humanity towards other beings.
The nature of inclusivity in the 360° art performance must also be taken into account, especially since society and its environment are the main aspects of the art. Such performances not only put culture and community at the forefront to tackle our contemporary challenges, but also demonstrate how the arts can put theories and queries into practice – and in instances such as this to great effect, given that art possesses the capacity to describe what the limitations of language fail to express. The arts must be developed in a direction that brings it closer to the society, not otherwise.
360° art performance is indeed a new approach for NYD and myself. However, it could become susceptible to higher possibilities in the future if it is constantly developed, practiced and studied; and it should be developed in a multi-disciplinary manner to ensure the best result is obtained…..