Thursday, May 30, 2013

an artist's attitude

My admiration for Zoe Jakes is apparent. I adore her spins, her pops and locks, her make-up, her jewelry, her energy. She is a skilled dancer and theatrical performer.

In my previous post, I've written about how I felt elated when she said that a piece of jewelry she wore was Javanese. That particular blog post is about cultural appropriation and what I think about it. Then yesterday, I saw this video.

I am not an authority on Balinese dance (or any traditional Indonesian dance), but I've seen enough Balinese dance performances to notice there's something that doesn't sit well with me.

Let me tell you, I am not offended by this performance, and to be honest, I think this is one of the ways to promote Indonesian dance. I mean, Colleena Shakti has consistently done this with traditional Indian dance and I know that Odissi is gaining popularity what with Sonia Ochoa, Moria Chappell, and one of my dear friends Allison Mulroy going to Ms. Shakti's school in Pushkar, India to learn Odissi. Traditional Indonesian dance is a dying art form. As an Indonesian, I can't help but feel somewhat guilty about this, because I am not interested in learning any traditional Indonesian dance (largely because most of these dances require discipline and hard work and they have really intricate footwork and arm work, and I'm just too stupid. I quit Kathak after only four sessions).

I know there are Balinese dancers or those who are well-versed in this dance form who will probably be offended, so I think it's only fair to mention that Zoe Jakes and Marci Ann have been studying with Gamelan Sekar Jaya (I don't know for how long). (Addendum: click here for further explanation from the person who helped Zoe choreographed this piece.)

Now back to my gut feeling: I don't mind the headdress and the costume (I don't know if there's a religious significance attached to them), but some movements don't gel with the gamelan music. For example, the "Floorwork Body Dive" at 1:14 to 1:26; The pop, lock, and little drops that Zoe does at 1:44 to 1:49 and the chest shimmies at 1:42. I don't know whether or not these movements are in the Balinese dance vocabulary, but they somehow don't look right.

I am not trying to be diplomatic nor kiss ass, and maybe I'm just insensitive and have the tendency to sell-out, but I don't feel that my culture is being appropriated by this performance. It intrigues me and makes me feel uncomfortable, but not offended.

One of my closest ATS® dance friends and I had a discussion about this video performance, and we both agreed on one thing: the artist attitude. When I was an undergrad working on my degree in advertising, I had a professor in Copywriting class who kept telling us that we were not artists, that we still had to keep in mind how the audience (or the client) would perceive our work. I think that keeps me in check with my own approach in trying to create a choreography. For some people, this may mean less freedom, but it also may also mean giving value to (and therefore respecting) the audience. The thing is, I don't know if people (who have authority on an art form or a religion or a culture) will criticize an artist's performance simply because of the artist (diva worship). Not criticizing the artist, not presenting the artist with an opposing view point (not necessarily negative), is actually bad for the artist's growth.

I like to equate this to a bad red carpet dress choice. Many celebrities have had their hits and misses. Many celebrities have had their phases of bad dresses. Some have survived and become fashion icons, some are still trapped in that phase. They might have survived because they listen to those who shook their head and said, "Honey, don't." They might have survived because they saw their pictures and shook their head and said, "I can't believe none of my friends told me, 'Honey, don't'!" But here's a counter argument: who's to say what's garish and what isn't? Who's to say what works and what doesn't? I don't like too skimpy and transparent clothes on the red carpet, but some people may call me prude.

Paige Lawrence, the director of the Uru Tribe, wrote a very poignant Note on his Facebook page. It's a reflection of the Uru Tribe's journey to Tribal Fest 13, and how he feels about his own performance. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy, and sometimes it's a good thing, because it may mean we are constantly trying to evolve, to grow, to challenge ourselves, to come out of our comfort zone. I still cringe (A LOT) whenever I see videos of myself performing.

Here's hoping that people won't see Zoe Jakes and Marci Ann's performance at Tribal Fest 13 as a true and authentic representation of Balinese dance. I know the introduction says "inspired", but we all know things can get lost and murky in translation.


Alicia Foodycat said...

I've been meaning to say THANK YOU. After watching the Sons of Trimurti youtube video I noticed that a couple of you fellas do levels with your left foot forward. I tried that and realised that my left knee is MUCH more stable than my right knee. I can do levels all the way to the ground and fast drops now. All because you guys were wearing 'loons not skirts and I could see what your legs were doing!

famousfeline said...

Yes! Well I tend to do it with my right foot forward (because of dance angle), but if left foot forward works better, then do it!

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