Australia and Indonesia draw near

Fiona Carter: Darwin Festival 2015

Jenni Sanderson, Janine Sutter, Antonietta Vanzella, Maria Vlastuin, Last Light, Tracks Dance

Jenni Sanderson, Janine Sutter, Antonietta Vanzella, Maria Vlastuin, Last Light, Tracks Dance

Jenni Sanderson, Janine Sutter, Antonietta Vanzella, Maria Vlastuin, Last Light, Tracks Dance

2015 introduced a new Artistic Director with a strong history in Asian and Australian Indigenous performing arts to Darwin Festival. Andrew Ross’ first festival program provided a taste of what may become the festival’s signature style. His close relationship with Indonesia saw several artists from our near neighbour featured alongside new Australian works and collaborative commissions. Northern Territory artists also took centre stage as the festival looks to strengthen its connections with the local community. The following works exemplify these strands of the program.

Cry Jailolo

In Cry Jailolo, choreographer Eko Supriyanto marries a sparse design with driving rhythms and the passion of a group of young men to evoke the beauty of the ocean’s natural patterns—taking us “underwater and into the lives of the local (Maluku Island) population [as] an expression of hope and optimism” (festival program guide).

With the stage free of adornment, underwater light is conjured as the dancers move in and out of direct beams—sometimes as though in a ray of sunlight, then plunging into shadowy, blue-green dimness. At times the vibrant red of a costume provides a flash of colour lifted from the palette of a tropical reef.

The movement is constant, ceasing only at two climactic moments in the work, once when everything stops—silence, stillness, the body of dancers staring—and later when all the dancers fall to the ground. This relentless drive of rhythm and movement was for some in the audience monotonous, while the impact on the dancers’ bodies for others was mesmerising.

Cultural tradition is never far away with the choreography referencing local dance. The music too picks up on the mystical and exotic, a reminder of the ancient and spiritual.

Cry Jailolo is a poignant reminder of the precariousness of a community dependent upon the natural environment for survival. “The tropical paradise of Jailolo in eastern Indonesia’s North Maluku islands is a tourist brochure dream—white sand, clear water and some of the world’s best diving. But life is changing for tourists and locals as the region is ravaged by environmental degradation” (program).

Cry Jailolo was created by Eko Supriyanto in collaboration with his dancers over a two-year period. The work is a direct response to the changes in the local environment and a vehicle to share the Jailolo community’s plight with the world. The commitment of this company of proud men to tell their story was highly deserving of the standing ovation that erupted as at its conclusion.

Kelly Beneforti, Leanne Eltagonde, Last Light, Tracks Dance

Kelly Beneforti, Leanne Eltagonde, Last Light, Tracks Dance

Kelly Beneforti, Leanne Eltagonde, Last Light, Tracks Dance

Tracks Dance, Last Light

Darwin-based Tracks is known for work that speaks of people and place. Last Light is no exception. The dancers are young and old, of varying ability and from different backgrounds. Myilly Point, the harbour and the setting sun are all iconic of Darwin. As a result this contemplative work is less about artistic prowess and more about community and location. So much so that many in the audience were drawn to snapping photos on their phones, evoking the feel of a tourist attraction.

Last Light is focused upon “a quintessential Darwin experience—the ending of the day, outside watching the sun go down” (Directors’ program note), with the sun actually providing most of the light for the performance. Calming classical music plays in the headset I am handed as I arrive. As we draw closer to the show’s start a voice in the headset gently counts down to the setting of the sun and I have time to enjoy the view. As it fades, lights in the palms of dancers flicker and shine and the final setting is lit simply by strands of fairy lights woven into hoops like neon branches of cherry blossom.

Last Light is guided by nature, starting slightly later each night so it will time with the sunset and adjusting the staging to align with the sun’s path. Birds duck and weave above the performers; the sound of busy bee eaters catching their prey in the cool of dusk is echoed by the overlay of birdcalls on the music track. With Last Light Tracks has created a work celebrating the theatre of nature, creating space for the audience to pause and reflect.




Ubiet with Topology, Food of Love

Food of Love was programmed as part of Between Two Oceans, a series of intimate concerts in Brown’s Mart Theatre. Draped in black and red with a traditional Indonesian ikat scarf across her shoulder, singer and ethnomusicologist Ubiet, accompanied by the composer Dian HP on piano, traversed the landscape of love in Komposisi Delapan Cinta (Eight Loves composition). Her voice seeming a little restrained, Ubiet sang in Bahasa, pausing between songs to introduce the music. Local musicians and members of the Brisbane contemporary music ensemble Topology were honoured in being invited to participate but the arrangements felt underdone, adding little to voice and piano.

In preparation for this concert, Australian composer and Director of Topology, Robert Davidson travelled to Yogyakarta to collaborate with Ubiet. The result was the final two pieces based on the works of West Australian poet Randolph Stow. Here scores are loosely influenced by traditional Javanese gamelan music, and inspired by a trip to the ancient Javanese temple of Borobudur.

As the musicians played Davidson’s compositions I realised this was what I had been hoping for. The music came to life and Ubiet unleashed the full flexibility of her voice, effortlessly negotiating a chant steeped in tradition. The instrumental arrangements were intricate, breathing colour and light into the music. This felt like a true melding of expertise, shared interests and musical prowess—rich, deep and diverse. In the program note, Director Andrew Ross writes, “It is my hope that Robert and Ubiet will continue to collaborate.” I hope so too.

Darwin Festival, Ekosdance Company, Cry Jailolo, choreographer Eko Supriyanto, Darwin Entertainment Centre, 7-8 Aug; Tracks Dance, Last Light, concept, direction David McMicken, Tim Newth, Myilly Point Park, Darwin 7-10, 13-18 Aug; The Food of Love, performers Ubiet, Dian HP, Topology, Veronique Serret, Brown’s Mart Theatre, Darwin, 9 Aug

RealTime issue #129 Oct-Nov 2015 pg. 26

© Fiona Carter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

9 October 2015