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Ditta Miranda Jasjfi’s dainty posture is not made for ballet. Yet, many of her friends and gurus would attest, proudly and readily, that her spirit is made for dancing.
One of her first dance teachers, Farida Oetoyo, said so in front of hundreds of audience members who were still awed by Ditta’s performance at the Goethe Institut
“When I first saw Ditta, I was not interested in her at all,” she said. In 1977, Ditta was 10 when she joined Ballet Sumber Cipta, founded by Farida. “But she’s a hard worker. When she dances, she dances with all her body,” Farida went on.
Ditta, a slim, 150-centimeter-tall woman, performed three short pieces recently at the German cultural center in Jakarta. Two were her solo parts from Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch GmbH’s pieces, Ten Chi and Vollmond (Full Moon), and one is Farida’s choreography, TOC.
Vollmond, performed last, was the most poignant and moving of all.
When the question and answer session after the performance began, choreographer Hartati Nfn, dance critic Sal Murgiyanto and other choreographers and dancers talked and asked questions, all proud of Ditta who made it in the world as one of 30 dancers in Bausch’s dance company in Wuppertal, Germany.
Bausch, who died in 2009 when she was 68, was Wuppertal’s artistic director and created legendary works like Café Müller, a personal and heartwrenching piece, and Rite of Spring, an epic and grand work. Her name recently obtained wider publicity after German filmmaker Wim Wenders completed Pina, a 3D documentary film and tribute to Bausch, starring the dancers, including Ditta, whose picture was chosen by Wenders in the poster of the film. Ditta’s magnificent jump, with water around her and long arms spread like wings, has become an iconic
image of the critically acclaimed documentary.
Ditta came to Germany in 1989, abandoning three years of university education in the Japanese literature department at Universitas Nasional in Jakarta. She enrolled in the dance department at Folkwang Hochschule, now Folkwang University of Art, where Bausch was an alumni.
She did not really know anything about Pina when she went to Germany, but there she learned of her big name and watched her works several times, although the first time the impression was not exactly good.
“I watched Palermo Palermo when I was in my first year. During the intermission I said to my friend, ‘what was that?’ I didn’t understand, they were like crazy people moving on the stage.”
Her friend said, “Don’t think too much, just enjoy it.”
Later she attended a performance of Iphigenia in Tauris, a piece filled with more beautiful movements by Wuppertal. This time she was moved and inspired. “I want to dance as beautifully as that,” she said.
Before joining Bausch’s dance company, she worked for six years with Susanne Linke, also a renowned choreographer, at Bremen Tanztheater.
By the time she auditioned for a position at Wuppertal, Ditta was already aware of Bausch’s magnitude and she already wanted to work with Bausch, who developed tanztheater (dance theater) into something that shaped the 20th century performing arts.
From 300 auditioning dancers, Ditta made it to seven on the shortlist. She did not get chosen; Bausch chose another dancer, Ditta’s friend.
“Pina said she liked me ... and she liked my personality. But I was too small, not a problem for solo dance but might be a problem in a group. The good thing was, she told me, please call me again, I could probably change my mind, because dancers could be small, big or fat, who knows.”
For Ditta it was like the end at that time. After several weeks without any news from Bausch, she decided to quit dancing, going back to Indonesia to do social work with the disabled.
“I made a list, I was happy again, I found a new calling.”
One fateful day, she made a decision, bought a ticket and sent all her money to Indonesia. That’s it.
The phone rang at 9 a.m. It was from Bausch’s assistant, saying Bausch wanted to work with Ditta and her first task was to rehearse a solo piece in Rite of Spring to replace a dancer who was pregnant. It was not an easy task. Those who have seen Rite of Spring — the video or the live performance — will notice that the solo part is a prestigious one, a part any dancer in the world would want.
When she was a girl, Ditta danced because she had “excessive energy”. Her parents enrolled her in ballet school in Paris (they lived there for three years when Ditta was four years old), and later in traditional dance courses in Indonesia.
“I learned Balinese, Javanese, dances from Sulawesi, Sumatra and whatnot.”
Her longest training, however, was ballet with Farida. She did not pursue classical ballet, however, because, “No matter how good your dancing is, in ballet you have to have long limbs and legs and certain hips and feet.”
In Folkwang she learned modern dance and her body had to “forget” her ballet training. “But I was adaptive. My teachers said it was one of my qualities.”
With Wuppertal, she dances in her own style, with a bit of Indonesian flavor. “Sometimes, inadvertently, I make movements like Indonesian traditional dance
In Wuppertal, every dancer has to improvise their own dance; Bausch’s role was to make the dancers’ different choreographies into a tanztheater performance.
In Vollmond, she taps her fingers to her chest when Bausch asked her dancers to describe the rain. She whirls to Bausch’s question: Storm. She raises her long hair, comically, when Bausch said: What would you do if you ran into someone scary?
What happened after Bausch died?
“I haven’t thought about returning to Indonesia. I still like what I’m doing at Wuppertal but I’m open to possibilities.” Wuppertal is still fully booked for an international tour until 2015. For the 2012/2013 season alone, Ditta and her friends are performing in New York, Antwerp, Toulouse, London, Taipei, Beijing, Moscow, Paris and Naples. It seems that her life is full of dancing.
“When I dance, I feel like my prayers have been heard. It is beautiful, the feeling. It is like I’m one with the universe,” she chuckles at her own words because she is “shy in daily life, but not on stage.”
“It’s not easy to describe it in words, but when I dance, I know why I was born to this world,” she said.