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Milan Sladek's mesmerizing pantomime show

Ganug Nugroho Adi

The Jakarta Post

Surakarta  /  Fri, August 11, 2017  /  10:08 am
Milan Sladek's mesmerizing pantomime show

Got to dance: Milan Sladek, a pantomime artist from Germany, performs a mask dance accompanied by a gamelan orchestra at Prodjolukitan Hall in Kemlayan, Surakarta, Central Java, during the first Intercultural Art Collaboration event in July. (JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi)

World pantomime maestro Milan Sladek reinterpreted the Bible story “Samson and Delilah” through a short repertoire in Dalem Prodjoloekitan Hall, Kemlayan, Surakarta, Central Java, for 15 minutes of humorous, joyful and relaxed pantomime comedy.

Emerging with thick, white makeup and small, arched eyebrows, Sladek grinned like a joker as a way of greeting, triggering laughter from the audience. 

Perched on top of a two-meter high platform set in the middle of the stage, Sladek played the roles of both Samson and Delilah. Turning to the left, he became Samson, displaying his muscles and sturdy physique in the way of a bodybuilder. 

Stamping his feet, he turned to the right and his featured promptly became flirtatious, with fluttering eyes that showed off curved eyelashes. “Delilah” smiled shyly and moved with grace.

The changing expressions and gestures only took seconds to accomplish, proving Sladek’s capabilities as a world-class pantomime. At the age of 78, the Slovak-born artist from Germany could still deliver a captivating performance.

“Samson and Delilah” is a familiar story indeed. As a man of great physical power, Samson is so deeply in love with Delilah that he reveals to her the secret of his strength. Prior to this show, Sladek performed the classic story at the Goethe Institute in Jakarta in 2008. 

Appearing for three successive days at the inaugural Intercultural Art Collaboration on July 21-23, Sladek took the stage with four rehearsed repertoires and one improvised performance. Before Sladek, the event started with Kelono and Sekar Taji mask dances by Dalem Prodjoloekitan artists.

Despite the limited space of the hall, which is located in a traditional Javanese Joglo mansion, Sladek was capable of exploring the stage. The century-old building itself also was an object of attraction for the audience.

Between the lines: The various expressions of Milan Sladek.Between the lines: The various expressions of Milan Sladek. (JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi)

Sladek opened his show with “Bunga Matahari” (Sunflowers), the story of a sunflower farmer. With movements and gestures, he depicted the lifecycle of a sunflower, from its beginnings as a seed until its death, changing his role as the flower and the farmer within seconds. 

The farmer rejoices as he observes his flourishing sunflower. The flower is also happy for being able to grow and eagerly cared for. The speed and accuracy at which Sladek was able to switch roles repeatedly stunned the audience. 

When the relationship between the farmer and his flowers is ruined by a tragic incidence, the sadness that washed over the audience was almost palpable. It was just as Sladek said before the show; sometimes body movements could go beyond words in their expressions.

From the tragic scene, the artist jumped to a romantic tale with “Leda and the Swan,” an adaptation of the Greek mythology about the god Jupiter wishing to win the love of Leda, the most beautiful woman in the universe. Rejected, Jupiter morphed into a swan to stay close to Leda. 

Through the comedy “Party,” Sladek once again showcased his superlative pantomime skills by playing several characters depicting party guests. First, he plays a man getting dressed to join the party as he put on his tuxedo, gloves and bow tie. At the party, the man freely mingles with other guests and chats with them. He then finds a woman sitting alone; he approaches her and asks her to dance.

The character is reminiscent of legendary silent film star Charlie Chaplin, particularly with Sladek’s comical movements. Each gesture, like opening the door, entering the room and kissing the woman’s hand, made the audience roar with laughter. 

Sladek’s talent became even more pronounced in his improvisation sketch, when he wore several masks and collaborated with a gamelan orchestra consisting of students and instructors of the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) of Surakarta. 

Presented with spontaneity, this repertoire saw Sladek dancing with a mask, representing an individual being confined in the realm of thought. 

Born in Strezenic, Slovakia, on Feb. 23, 1938, Sladek has staged shows in Jakarta, Bandung, and Medan, but his masked improvisation piece was the first one he performed.

“It’s my first collaboration with masks. I don’t know if it’s better or worse. I’ve included gamelan and masks because both are heritage [pieces]. But I’m satisfied with the gamelan. It’s a wonderful performance,” Sladek said after the event. 

Since he first visited Indonesia in the 1980s, Sladek has watched many traditional performing arts like ketoprak (Javanese history drama) and wayang (Javanese classical dance drama), of which elements have influenced his works.

“When some of my works are staged in Europe, they will say the shows are very Asian. It means that there are indeed such elements included,” Sladek said. 

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