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Choreographic Dance Practice at Sanggar Ayodya Pala DKI Jakarta

"Memukulnya dengan keras, jangan takut salah. Kita belajar bersama. Aku juga belajar." (Bang Rizky)

As an artist who wasn't formally trained in dance at an arts school and whose primary practice up till this point has always been theatre, particularly physical theatre and movement, my experience at Sanggar Ayodya Pala DKI Jakarta has opened up some enlightening avenues for further thought with regards to how the arts might be practised and integrated with one another. As a disclaimer, these are my own personal thoughts based on my experiences and observations having been exposed to the training offered at this sanggar as part of the Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship 2023 (BSBI 2023).

Generally speaking, a typical dance rehearsal would last anywhere from two to four hours with ample breaks in the middle to catch our breath, rehydrate and re-centre ourselves. The process is as such:

  1. Warm ups [Pemanasan]

  2. Injection of Movement [Injeksi Gerak]

  3. Basic Choreographic Material [Perkenalan dan Pemberian Materi Dasar Tari]

  4. Rehearsal / Practice [Latihan]

  5. Correction of Movement [Koreksi Gerakan]

  6. Rehearsal / Practice [Latihan]

  7. Group Showcase [Pergelaran Kumpulan]

  8. Additional Choreographic Material [Penambahan Materi Tari]

The above should act as a general guideline for dance practice rather than a hard and fast rule book to follow. These 8 steps are then repeated, focusing on correcting movement at each stage when additional choreography is being taught. There are different groups selected for each showcase. Many classical Indonesian dances involve different choreography for men and women, as such, this is the case for showcases wherein groups are segmented along gender lines. However, several dances (e.g. Tari Enjot-Enjotan) involve and revolve around a combination of male and female dancers or male and female parts. Think of it as a couple dance where each gender offers a counterpoint to the other.

In addition to making the dance more interesting and flavourful (full of rasa), this complementarity offers a glimpse into the kinds of interpersonal social relations that exude a sense of harmony within Indonesian society. Perhaps a topic for further discussion and consideration would be the place and position of gender in the context of the contemporary practice of classical Indonesian dance. Why and how is gender so key to dance practice in Indonesia? Can these gender lines be crossed? If so, what kinds of processes would be necessary to make the rehearsal both engaging and effective? Would it be accepted?

I now turn to one of the key topics that interests me regarding dance training here at the Jakartanese sanggar, a practice that I am certain will be manifested across different sanggars all over Indonesia - 'Injeksi Gerak' or 'Injection of Movement'.

Injection of Movement | Injeksi Gerak

Focusing on tari enjot-enjotan, several key movements are involved: kewér, selancar, and selut. Each movement can be further broken down into its component parts which involve the movement of the hands, the body and the feet. When training, dancers are tasked to isolate each part of the body and learn its respective choreographic u individually before combining all units into a single movement.

For instance, the extension and taut straightening of the limbs when preparing for kewér is emphasised and dancers are tasked to hold this position as part of injeksi gerak. Another example would the kuda-kuda stance or half squat which requires dancers to bend their knees and lower their upper bodies towards the ground while keeping their chest up and their hands straightened, fingers touching the knees. Several variations are then added to these basic poses - ukel-ukel or the inward rotation of the wrists, or enjotan, the bouncing movement of the body while holding the half squat pose.

Why do I describe this aspect of the dance practice at length? How exactly does it feel to be going through such an extensive and rigorous training? Perhaps the underlying principle is this: our bodies are not naturally accustomed to these poses or movements. As a fact, nothing in dance is natural. All our movements are choreographed and everything is stylised. Even naturalism cannot achieve an absolute replica of movement in real life. Therefore, the body needs to be conditioned in order to prepare itself to move.

The injection of movement is thus a dancer's way of flexing his or her mental, emotional and physical artistic muscle; to prepare, internalise and train the body to remember what it is like to move. In another manner of speaking, injeksi gerak is repeating basic movements, returning to the roots of dance (movement) in order to reconfigure how the body moves, and why it moves in such a manner. Simply put, it is a way to relearn how to move.

The repetition of these movements for a new practitioner is something that feels unnatural, especially during the first session. The arm does not feel accustomed to being held at such an angle and to move in such a refined and regulated way. The legs, at times, fail to coordinate and move according to the rhythm. But that is part of the process.

Count | Hitungan

What is enriching about the curriculum of this programme is that music and dance are taught together. We may not exactly be musicians or dancers but we are all artists [seniman], and to make art [berkesenian] is to train across artistic genres and forms. There is something to be said about the way in which Indonesians make art, wherein there seems to be no exact delineation of artistic genre. Dance feeds into music, music into dance; dance informs the way theatre is created, and story is what infuses life into dance. There is so much interartistic exchange occurring at an almost subconscious, visceral level that it is hard to pinpoint where it begins or ends. Based on my observations, there is no beginning or end, no dichotomic oppositions, no clean cuts, only a never-ending flowing into one another.

In music, timing or count is incredibly key to maintaining the rhythm and coherence of the piece. In dance too this is extremely prevalent. The way dancers are trained is the same way that musicians are trained when it comes to keeping time or to menghitung dari dalam or menghitung dengan hati. To count within or count with the heart is to feel each movement, each beat, not as separate distinct entities but interlinked parts of a whole. They are, to borrow the metaphor of the Net of Indra, sparkling gems that reflect the truth and realities of another. They are all connected.

To inject movement, is then to count with the heart; it is to prepare and condition the body to dance. This is why we focus so much on warming up and preparing the body way before rehearsals even begin.


I draw attention to the following links for further reading on Tari Enjot-Enjotan and choreographic practice in general:

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