Investigating Quietness – Kun Yang Lin Dancers on Tour in IndonesiaNov 9th, 2011 | By | Category: Dance Stories
By Jessica C. Warchal-King for The Dance Journal
Listening. Awareness. Humility. These words triangulate my experience on tour in Indonesia with Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers and provide depth to my own research as a performer. The Company participated in the Jogja International Performing Arts Festival (JIPA) in Jogjakarta, the cultural capital of Indonesia. Our trip was made possible by a grant from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a grant from the U.S. State Department and the generous support of individual donors.
During the past two years, the Company has been working with a variety of outside master teachers of Eastern contemplative practices including, Chinese puppet master, Hua Hua Zhang. She has often reminded us that we need to listen to our puppet. We cannot control it, but need to develop a relationship based upon mutual respect and listening. Kun-Yang has adeptly applied this to his own work in coaching us, as performers. “The space is like the puppet. You must listen to what’s happening around you,” he instructs us during rehearsals.
Halfway around the world, Martinus Miroto, an internationally renown Indonesian mask performer sits cross-legged on a small couch in our home-stay. He leaves on an international tour in just four days, but, after experiencing our performance of the Mandala Project during the evening before, he was drawn to drive an hour to visit with us. “As performers, we’re always talking. Talking with our bodies. Always moving and telling. But we must listen. Listen to the other performers. Listen to the space,” he reflects. Listening provides us with an opportunity to go deeper into the work, to first find stillness, so we as performers can move into an experience that is more than just moving the body. This deep resonance in conceiving of dance as a practice, as a way of being, has kept alive the artistic relationship between Kun-Yang and Miroto over 10 years and across thousands of miles. Miroto shares that one of his collaborators, Budi Hartomo from Madura, spent several years exploring a mask before one chose him during his childhood. Then, he spent two years playing with the mask before he could begin to learn the traditional mask dances. Budi is the last person to ever perform these dances; he is the only male learning these dances in his village and will only be able to perform them until he is 35, according to tradition. His patience, practice, and acceptance of the fate of his dance provide evidence to the attention, awareness, and humility of a master performer.
Miroto is talking about an energetic practice, which he tells us, he clearly senses underlying our work. I begin to understand that this is what Kun-Yang has been trying to say for the past few years. I had to travel with him to Indonesia to comprehend it. Here, immersed in an ancient culture that honors its artistic roots while embracing modernity, I am navigating some of the terrain of Kun-Yang’s world and thereby growing closer to the multi-cultural influences that inform his vision. Moving between cultures and beyond labels of “traditional” and “contemporary”, “East” and “West” I am sensing the essence, the common humanity, of which Kun-Yang often speaks.
Complementing Kun-Yang’s training, the Company has been engaged in working with several masters of different Asian movement techniques – with Hua Hua, with Sifu Chik Mason to explore Tái Chi and Kung Fu, with Tibetan Ritual dance master and Buddhist monk, Losang Samten, and with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s Hsu-Hui Huang to dive into meditative traditions. Each of these has been an opportunity to research the practice of listening and developing awareness. My body is a conduit to reveal these investigations. The objective is to expose the human condition. As a performer and researcher, I need to listen to my own humanness. The people of Indonesia, with their gentle humility, joy and generosity open another portal.
Two days closer to his tour, Miroto invites us to his studio. A beautiful outdoor/ indoor workshop that doubles as a performance venue. We meet Budi and another collaborator, Aerli Rasinah from Cirebon. She is the fifteenth generation to perform her dances and shares with us her grandmother’s masks. I am so inspired by her dedication to her performance practice and sharing of tradition. Her presence gently prompts me to keep exploring the depths of the work I am doing with the Company. The investigations never end. The research continues. It’s a life-long quest to listen, to be aware, and to share through performance.
Between our performances and a workshop with the effusive dance students of ISI, the Indonesian Institute of Art, Kun-Yang arranges for us to visit the thousand-year-old Borobudur Temple. It was Kun-Yang’s pilgrimage to Borobudur ten years earlier that inspired him to begin creating the Mandala Project which, almost improbably, we are now sharing with Indonesian audiences. Our Indonesian entourage – an energetic group of volunteers from the Festival – are our escorts. The Temple reaches into the sky, its layers of stone and stories beckoning us and the hundreds of visitors who make the trek. A sign prompts that visitors start at the East end and circle each level of the Temple before traversing the high steps to the next level. The walls are rich with ornate carvings of life events. I am told that they not only convey the story, the evolution of life of the Buddha, but also of a shared, human journey. As I walk quietly, sometimes by myself, sometimes with other members of our group, I begin to sense the importance of this sacred place to our practice, our artistry. Taking the time to circle the massive Temple allows me to be aware of the unevenness of the stone, the intricacies of the carvings, the nervousness in my chest. And then, as soon as I am aware, the fluttering quiets. Stops. Drops away. I am left lighter, with a new sense of calm and more internal space to pay attention to my surroundings. The sitting Buddhas focusing on the horizon. The trees and villages surrounding the Temple. The other people sharing this journey with me. I find a new sense of breath.
At the top of the Temple, there are no more carvings. The stone is smooth, as if the carvings melted away to reveal the true essence of the medium. At Kun-Yang’s urging, the Company circles this top, final layer in silence. A quiet snake investigating, sensing, seeing, listening. At the Temple summit, Kun-Yang invites us to breathe together, a silent meditation. One-by-one, we share reflections and observations – of our journey, of the impulses of Borobudur as reflected in our work, of our unfolding awareness as a corps of dance artists coalescing around a common vision of our art as the ultimate integration of body, mind and spirit. At the top, my peripheral vision expands and I see and feel everything. Here, I cannot escape, but I do not need to.
We return to Philadelphia, and continue the practice. Sometimes, it is difficult to step into the studio space and let the rest of the world drop away. My educator’s mind bustles. My administrator’s mind is full. Chattering. I continue, daily, moment by moment, to investigate a quietness that allows me to listen.
I am grateful that I had an intensive period to cultivate these investigations and a stable foundation from which to continue. These experiences have informed my work as an artist, as a person, and as a member of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers. I am not just a performer showcasing Kun-Yang’s creations. I am an active participant in the process and my own human experiences are reflected through my physicality. In turn, I have an opportunity to share Miroto’s work, Hua Hua’s expressions, the stories of Aerli and Budi, and the narratives of a new group of dancers, artists, and people from Jogja.