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Obituary: Suprapto Suryodarmo, ‘free movement’ guru for hundreds of dancers

Ganug Nugroho Adi

The Jakarta Post

Surakarta, Central Java  /  Mon, December 30, 2019  /  06:47 pm
Obituary: Suprapto Suryodarmo, ‘free movement’ guru for hundreds of dancers

A senior dance artist from Central Java’s Surakarta, Suprapto Suryodarmo, died on Sunday at the age of 74. (JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi)

A senior dance artist from Central Java’s Surakarta, Suprapto Suryodarmo, died on Sunday at the age of 74. Mbah Prapto, as he was called with affection, ran the Lemah Putih art center, whose artists hail from around the globe.

“His health condition had not been stable in the past 10 days. [He had] heart problems,” said Melati Suryodarmo, Mbah Prapto’s daughter.

She explained that two weeks ago her father returned from the United Kingdom and said he had chest pains. Mbah Prapto’s condition improved after he was hospitalized for four days and he even danced at the Central Java Cultural Park in Surakarta on Dec. 20.

One of Mbah Prapto’s most renown works was the dance piece Joget Amerta. He described the dance as free movements that adopt daily activities. Through the dance, Mbah Prapto encouraged his students to contemplate life, meditate and build awareness that humans are part of nature and creation.

During the past 35 years, Mbah Prapto introduced his art of movement to Asia, Europe, the Americas and Australia. He also took a major part in the creation of Wayang Buddha in the 1970s. The Wayang Buddha was a collaborative artwork that involved a number of major artists from different disciplines.

“The essence of movement is not expression but a form of transformation. The form could be a movement from the state of being unaware to being aware, existence to non-existence and so forth,” Mbah Prapto once said to The Jakarta Post.

Born on Feb. 25, 1945 in Kemlayan village, Surakarta, Mbah Prapto had been introduced to different styles of movement since childhood, from classical Javanese dance, Silat, to Kung Fu. He studied Vipassana (Buddhist meditation) and sumarah (Javanese relaxation). When he was a teenager, his father, who is a follower of the Kejawen indigenous faith, often took him to sacred places such as the mountains, holy sites, sendang (springs that form small ponds) and graveyards. From his father, young Mbah Prapto also learned tirakat (a soul-searching ritual), fasting, meditation and sleeping at sendang or in graveyards.

“That is how my father introduced me and brought me close to God,” Mbah Prapto once said.

His religious experiences with his father became the basis for his working in art, through a “free movement” that he explored until the end of his life. He also preferred to use the term joget than tari for his movements.

“The name is Joget Amerta. I call it joget because it refers more to people who are learning to dance from the basics. There are many bases for dance, including those outside movement techniques, such as fasting, meditation and nglakoni (going through all required steps to reach a certain goal),” said the artist, who once rehearsed a dance in front of the Pyramids in Egypt.

Mbah Prapto’s talent in art was built by his surroundings. His childhood among the houses in Kemlayan village was pretty much serenaded by the sounds of gamelan melody and langgam (traditional pentatonic tones of gamelan in keroncong music). The village itself was the residential area of the palace’s gamelan musicians.

Mbah Prapto studied dance with late choreographer S. Ngaliman and music with gamelan musicians Mloyo Widodo and Guno. Before choreographer Sardono W. Kusumo moved to Jakarta, Mbah Prapto also spent a lot of time with him in Surakarta.

Read also: Jeihan Sukmantoro, painter extraordinaire, passes away at 81

Mbah Prapto’s own ventures in art began in 1966 when he formed the group Bharada, through which he taught dance and martial arts. He then created Wayang Buddha, a performance that presents a new style of puppetry, combining visual arts, music and puppetry itself, that became the talk among many communities.

His performance in Germany with choreographer Sardono W. Kusumo at the International Mime Festival in 1982 connected him with fellow artists who used the approach of free movement similar to his. Every year since 1982, Mbah Prapto was always invited to give workshops in Europe, Australia, the United States and Asia, including the Philippines, Korea and Japan. He also initiated an art performance at Ground Zero in the city of New York.

Mbah Prapto in 1986 founded the Lemah Putih art center for his students, where the Sharing Movement community was born. The name of the community refers to his teaching method that emphasized sharing.

Another lesson that Mbah Prapto gave to his students was srawung candi (visiting the temples). Every New Year's Eve until the first day of the new year, he always staged a performance at the Sukuh temple on the slopes of Mount Lawu in Karanganyar regency, Central Java.


SABBE SANKHARA ANICCA *Semua yang terbentuk tidak kekal* Telah meninggal dunia dengan tenang dan damai pada hari Minggu, 29 desember 2019. pukul 01.55 WIB di Surakarta. Ayahanda kami yang tercinta, SUPRAPTO SURYODARMO Usia : 74Tahun • • Anak: Melati Suryodarmo Bagaskoro - Nanik retno dumilah Galih naga seno • • Cucu: Selina sri permata Susatya bhasma amerta Amelia metta assyarani Angelina cetta litihayu Annisa candra laksmi Genta faayaz ho seno Alvaro maheswara seno • • Cicit: Aiichiro aatreya amerta • • • Turut berduka cita: Dr.Diane Butler Halim hd Irene lukito #padepokanlemahputih #tamanhutanlemahputih #supraptosuryodarmo #amertamovement #jogedamerta

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Choreographer Mugiyono Kasido said that Mbah Prapto had planned to perform at the Sukuh temple with dozens of artists on Dec. 31, 2019 and Jan. 1, 2020.

“But he is gone already,” said Mugiyono.

Mbah Prapto's remains are to be cremated on Monday, following a ceremony on the same day at the Central Java Cultural Park in Surakarta. (mut)