The Jakarta Post
Born into a family with little artistic proclivity, 33-year-old Danang Pamungkas is now a choreographer and professional dancer who has performed on many international stages.
A long way from the hustle and bustle of the city, Danang's childhood world was surrounded by paddy fields, rivers and sugarcane plantations, with no entertainment or art performances.
'There were outdoor movie showings and village fairs only once in a while. We usually just played our own children's games for amusement,' recalled Danang, who is the youngest of six born to farmers living in Banyuanyar on the fringes of Surakarta (Solo), bordering Karanganyar regency, Central Java.
Danang was introduced to the world of dance when an art student, Suwondo, visited his village to conduct research for his undergraduate thesis. While doing his surveying, Suwondo also offered free dance lessons for Banyuanyar children.
'After training for a month I got bored, but my father wanted me to go on. In a year, I was able to perform various children's dances,' said Danang, who most recently performed on stage along with top singer Endah Laras and flutist Sunardi at the Festival Indonesia in Roppongi Hills Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan, which was held from Sept. 20 to 24.
Just as Danang's interest in dance was blossoming, Suwondo stopped teaching and left Banyuanyar. Danang felt his absence dearly, as Wondo, as he was familiarly known, had inspired him to want to become a professional dancer.
'Three years later, Pak Wondo came again. I was very enthusiastic when he trained us for the upcoming National Independence Day celebration at the village hall,' Danang said.
After junior high school, Danang attended the Classical Art High School (SMK I) for boys and girls in Surakarta. There he studied Javanese classical dances, covering Surakarta and Yogyakarta styles.
'In the first year at SMKI I concentrated on my studies. In the second year I started dancing at wedding ceremonies for money, just to pay my school fees,' he said.
In his third year at school, Danang won the trust of several senior dancers, such as Suprapto Suryodharmo, Nungki Nurcahyani, Eko Supriyanto and Djarot B. Darsomo, and he was asked to join their shows. He further developed his relationships with fellow artists when he entered the Indonesian Arts College (ISI), Solo, in 1999.
In college, Danang began creating his own pieces. His first was Gulung, followed by Gliyong ( 2000 ), Trance ( 2001 ), Dograg ( 2002 ), Gaung ( 2003 ), Panyot Pun Padam ( 2004 ) and Diujung Pintu ( 2005 ). For Gliyong, Danang was chosen as first runner-up at the Choreography Festival in Yogyakarta, while Panyot Pun Padam won first place in the National Choreography Contest held by the Jakarta Art Council.
'I was determined to be a professional dancer when in 2003 I was selected by Mas Don [dance maestro Sardono W. Kusumo] to join one of his major works, Nobody's Body,' said Danang.
In 2005, he performed with South Korean choreographer Sen Hea Ha at Uijeongbu Music Festival and Modafe Art Festival in Seoul, South Korea, and at the Singapore Art Mart.
He also began staging his own shows in several Asian and European countries and participated in and helped organize workshops with international choreographers, including Yukio Waguri from Japan and Stephanie Thierch from Germany.
He was also involved in various dance performances with wayang suket (grass puppet) master Slamet Gundono, and he has collaborated with the English National Opera and the Shubert Theater in the United States.
His professional career ascended further when in 2007 he was one of 10 young Indonesian choreographers chosen to participate in a workshop put on by Taiwan's famous choreographer Lin Hwai-min.
A year later, Danang signed a three-year contract to dance with the Cloud Gate Dance Theater, a prominent dance group in Taipei. Beforehand, he had to train for six months in classical ballet, traditional dance, martial arts, tai chi and the techniques of Martha Graham, a modern dance pioneer from Pittsburgh in the United States.
'The technical capacity of the Cloud Gate dancers, especially their flexibility, was remarkable. They're real geniuses. I got a lot of knowledge from my three-year stint in Taiwan. But I decided to advance my career at home instead of extending my contract,' said Danang.
Upon returning home from Taiwan, Danang received a grant from the arts foundation Yayasan Kelola, and he later composed Beat, which was shown at the Indonesian Dance Festival 2012. In Beat, he combined modern body release techniques with Mangkunegaran palace-style Javanese classical dance. His wife, Dewi Galuh Shita Sari, is a Mangkunegaran palace dancer
'For Beat, I did research for about three months. I follow leading choreographers, who always do some research before creating dance sequences. It's difficult for me to make spontaneous compositions,' said Danang.
'Musicians have an important role because they help liven up movements. I've also frequently consulted photographers regarding stage arrangement, as they have a better view of the platform,' said the dancer of Song of Body at the Salihara Theater, Jakarta, in 2009.
'My idol is Pina Bausch [a German contemporary dance maestro]. I must admit that my works have been considerably inspired by Pina, apart from Javanese classical dances,' he said.
In April he performed in Opera Jawa Selendang Merah (Red Scarf Javanese Opera) created by noted film director Garin Nugroho. After his latest performance at the Festival Indonesia in Tokyo, Danang is making preparations to collaborate with several choreographers of the Maya Dance Company in Singapore slated for mid-October.