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Riyanto: Dancing for liberation

Tarko Sudiarno
Tarko Sudiarno

The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta | Thu, May 31, 2018 | 09:26 am
Riyanto: Dancing for liberation

Leap of faith: Riyanto wants the audience to reflect on the notion that they are all God’s creations. (JP/Tarko Sudiarno)

With his back turned to the audience, the dancer’s motions were graceful, coupled with the sensual movements of his hips and the delicate gesturing of his hands.

But slowly the feminine movements changed to become masculine and powerful, hypnotizing the audience. All fell silent, their eyes transfixed on the dancer, who wore only a short undergarment resembling that of a Japanese Sumo wrestler.

He moved smoothly and beautifully between modern and traditional dance movements and feminine and masculine gestures.

This was all part of a performance by Riyanto, 37, a male Lengger dancer from Banyumas, Central Java, during a show held last week as part of the daily performance program of this year’s ARTJOG, currently being held at the Jogja National Museum (JNM).

In the dark: Riyanto combines modern and traditional dance movements, as well as masculine and feminine gestures in his dance.In the dark: Riyanto combines modern and traditional dance movements, as well as masculine and feminine gestures in his dance. (JP/Tarko Sudiarno)

Born in Banyumas in 1981, the dancer, who currently resides in Tokyo, performed Hijrah, a part of his dance work Medium, which is still evolving.

Riyanto knew that he wanted to become a dancer at a young age. An alumnus of the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) Surakarta majoring in dance art, Riyanto has long held a deep passion for Lengger Banyumas dance. The contemporary dance choreographer has worked to introduce the dance to local and international audiences.

In 2006, he established the Dewandaru Dance Company in Tokyo.

Crashing: The dancer uses bright-colored powder as part of his performance.Crashing: The dancer uses bright-colored powder as part of his performance. (JP/Tarko Sudiarno)

Performing as a male Lengger dancer, Riyanto tells the story of a tormented soul through his choreography. He wants to escape the rigid gender binary that separates male and female dance. As a dancer who has frequently performed as a female dancer in traditional Lengger dances, he can easily feel that gender difference. In his contemporary dance works, however, he is able to free himself from the masculine and feminine division.

For his performance at ARTJOG, Riyanto was accompanied by two musicians. Across two stages, he exploited his elastic, strong yet supple body.

On the first stage, which was empty of any props, he showcased physical movements that seemed to run without narration. He appeared to go with the flow, performing traditional, modern, feminine and masculine movements.

He then moved to the second, smaller stage, which had a floor covered with red, yellow, blue and green powder. There he performed slower, contemplative movements using colors to represent the aura exuded by human beings. With the help of the two accompanying musicians, Riyanto was showered with the powder, with the four colors uniting with his body.

Soft and strong: Riyanto performs the first act of Hijrah at the Jogja National Museum during ARTJOG 2018.Soft and strong: Riyanto performs the first act of Hijrah at the Jogja National Museum during ARTJOG 2018. (JP/Tarko Sudiarno)

Through his genderless movements and the colors representing the emotions of the soul, Riyanto directed the audience to contemplate that we are all God’s creation.

“The perception of the colors is up to the audience. They are free to give meaning to the colors according to their respective perceptions,” Riyanto said after the show, adding that he would continue the work to complete Medium.  

Separately, a curator of the ARTJOG’s daily performance program, Bambang Paningron, said Riyanto had been invited to perform at ARTJOG because he was one of Indonesia’s best contemporary dancers.The dancer once performed a dance titled New Spirit of Indonesia during the inauguration ceremony of former United States president Barack Obama at Capitol Hill in Washington DC on Jan. 20, 2009.

“What amazes me is that although he has collaborated with world class dancers and been influenced by cultures from abroad, he continues to strongly hold onto the eastern tradition of Javanese dance,” Bambang said.

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