into the vortex

devi fitria: asri mery sidowati’s merah

Merah

Merah

Merah

AT THE BEGINNING OF ASRI MERY SIDOWATI’S MERAH (RED), THE STAGE IS IN TOTAL DARKNESS UNTIL SEVERAL DIM LIGHTS ALLOW A GLIMPSE OF TWO FIGURES. WE SEE AN ALMOST NAKED MAN IN A LOIN CLOTH AND WOMAN WEARING A TIGHT DARK OUTFIT WRAPPED AROUND HER BODY FROM TOP TO ALMOST TOE, THE DESIGN MAKING IT IMPOSSIBLE TO SEE HER FACE.

In the background there’s a sound like a cricket, adding to a heightened sense of quiet. It’s as if we are being drawn into a jungle, but serenity brings with it a terrorizing kind of solitude. The stage is dark again. Gradually the sound changes to a kind of a heavy mumbling while scattered rays are slowly projected on the backdrop, like sunlight peeking through forest trees, but again suggesting stillness.

Originally a 2006 graduation piece, Merah was made during the hype of Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. It tries to take us into the vortex of global warming, rain forest destruction and other environmental crises, although the elaboration of the work’s theme is not quite clear.

The almost naked man bends at the knees and crosses his hands in front of his chest, mimicking the flapping wings of a bird and symbolising hope or, perhaps, the birth of life itself. At first this ‘bird’ flies slowly and then faster and higher, so high that the man must let it go.

In another scene the stage becomes almost red, as if something bad is taking its course. The man squats as if great pressure is being imposed upon him, his hands pulled back, his face in grinning as if in pain. He bends lower and lower, moving slowly, meticulously transforming his pose, making the working of his muscles visible—a movement tradition rooted in the dance of Topeng Panji (Panji Mask) of West Java.

Towards the ending of Merah, the man wraps his body around the woman like a belt or a snake which she accepts with strength and without complaint. She bends as a vest descends, partially covered with broken mirrors. The man climbs onto her back and slips into the garment, scattering light through the theatre.

For the choreographer perhaps the male figure represents the human species while the woman is nature, bowing to man and subject to destruction. All aspects of the performance—its stillness, the low lighting and slow movement—conveyed haunting imagery if not making the work’s meaning finally clear.

12 July 2010