Rianto, 37, has attracted public attention with his Lengger Lanang dance performance. This dance is a type of dance from Banyumas that shows the practice of cross-gender, a man that dance women figure, as the medium to express body, gender, and construction. Besides his choice of dance, Rianto is an excellent dancer. He was the 24-hour dancer in International Dance Day in Solo, Indonesia some years ago. Recently, he joined Akram Khan Company, England. Two of his outstanding previous works were Soft Machine – a solo work under the direction of Choy Ka Fai – and Medium[i] that was performed in 2016, and will be performed at the Esplanade da:ns festival 2018. In 2018, he presented his creation entitled Hijrah, which is still to be finalized, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
With a flirtatious face, Rianto dances gracefully, performing a feminine figure accompanied by a song sung by Cahwati. While the music starts to make a clopping sound, at once, Rianto dances the opposite movement, performing a masculine figure, contrasting the previous movement. In this context, Rianto embodies two genders at once in his body. Instead of being presented in contrast, Rianto sets up a dialogue between the two figures in Hijrah.
Hijrah is Rianto’s work-in-progress creation about gender migration. It was performed on May 25 at ArtJog[ii], Jogja National Museum, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, involving Cahwati – on vocals and kenong – and Waluyo – on vocals and percussion. Different from his two outstanding previous works, Soft Machine and Medium, Rianto does not only talk about the contradiction, but also the migration of gender more articulately and subtly. This work becomes a dialogue in between bodies of the man and woman that undercut each other.
Rianto explains that Hijrah is inspired by his previous work Medium and his interpretation of gender. Rianto’s presentation on Hijrah describes his anxiety on “the conception of the journey of a male Lengger body beyond the boundary of gender, space, and time.”
The Journey of Body Migration
There are two significant parts in Hijrah that can be read as the journey of body that migrates. In the first half of the performance, many movements clearly take after his previous work, Medium. This shows that the essence of the movement is the further exploration material of Medium.
The performance starts by the dim light and music while Rianto, in black, faces down in the middle of the stage. Afterwards, he starts to run in place, back and forth, until he starts running in all directions. Rianto has an interesting floor pattern where stage-range exploration is not based on calculation, but blends with the idea that he wants to emphasise.
Next, as the rumbling drum beats staccato, Rianto starts stretching his arm, looks up and ends with Lengger hand movement. He sways his hip side to side while his shoulder follows slowly. He performs the Lengger hand movement with various creative explorations – for example, as he stares oddly at his hand as it moves, or when the Lengger hand hits his face. That strange situation is supported by various strange sounds, such as the sound of the gecko. From the hand, the movement spreads to various movements of his body. Rianto performs the movement vocabulary, an exploration of movement, and skilful body gesture.
When Cahwati sings lyrics such as “Awas-Awas//Ayune//cantik pol” (be careful//how beautiful//very beautiful), Rianto moves more flirtatiously with a timid smile on his face. Rianto turns his body into a dialogic space between gender, which are male, female, and ambivalent.
In the last half of the performance, it is Rianto’s interpretation on body migration as well as his construct where Rianto brings his body as an explicit space for the man and woman dialogue. In this part, Rianto also integrates various arts in articulating gender construction.
Rianto slowly walks downstage, looking gloomy. He steps down below the stage, where there is a smaller stage coloured red, yellow, green, and blue. He stands in the middle of that stage while a woman keeps grumbling and a man keeps arguing. He stands between them; they argue until they throw powder at each other and onto Rianto’s body. After the fight ends, Rianto says “Lanang Wadon Jadi Siji” (man and woman become one). The coloured powder thrown on his body can be interpreted as constructs of gender. In this context, Rianto’s body accommodates the negotiation or the constructs contested between a man and a woman.
Subsequently, he looks down. Several times he slams his body in different directions while closing his eyes with the same support, his head and body. Here he embodies pain and sacrifice. He spreads the powder on his body. Afterwards, he dances Lengger gracefully and comfortably again, moving upstage. In the middle of the stage, he crosses his arms on his back and says “Kulo kelingan marah” (I remember the anger) as the stage light fades out. He embodies the space of the negotiation and contestation in the journey of gender migration.
Lengger as the Constellation of Gender Narration
Rianto’s persistence in dancing Lengger embodies many things, among others, the dance, bodily experience, and issues related to gender. Rianto creates Hijrah as the embodiment space of migrating the body. Hijrah articulates the journey of body, not only concerning different bodies in gender but also binding constructs.
In my view, this performance offers not only a choreographic skill but also critical reading on gender. However, the colourful stage used in the performance was too crowded and distracting, especially with the use of powder. In my opinion, the use of one colour on the stage offers a more beautiful background for the performance: for example, white or black background that could be used as a reflection space. Nevertheless, Hijrah is a high quality work-in-progress creation.
One thing that makes this work is interesting and outstanding is Rianto’s performance of the Lengger dance that has no visual notation attributed to the dance. However, the performance still connotes Lengger. Lengger dance is clearly shown in his body. It is an extraordinary achievement. Overall, Rianto is the best choreographer of contemporary dance from Indonesia who is able to bring up recent issues through traditional aesthetics.
[i]Rianto will perform Medium at da:ns festival 2018 on 16 – 17 October at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. He also performs in Akhram Khan Company’s Until the Lions which was staged at the Esplanade Theatre on 9 – 10 October, also part of the da:ns festival.
[ii]ArtJog is a contemporary visual art exhibition in Yogyakarta. Started in 2017, ArtJog does not only show visual art, but also performances each night.
About the author(s)
Michael H.B. Raditya is a researcher, performing arts critic, and writer interested in popular music studies, performance studies, dance studies, and anthropology of Art. In 2022, He commenced PhD program in the Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne, Australia. He is a founder of the Dangdut Studies Center (www.dangdutstudies.com), distributing research about dangdut. He also Published two books, titled Merangkai Ingatan Mencipta Peristiwa (Performing Arts criticism) (2018) and OM Wawes: Babat Alas Dangdut Anyar (Biography of Dangdut) (2020). In 2021, He published two articles published by Routledge, "The Popularisation and Contestation of Dangdut Koplo in the Indonesian Music Industry" in Made in Nusantara: Studies in Popular Music and "Revealing Cultural Representation in Indonesian Contemporary Dance" in The Routledge Companion to Dance in Asia and the Pacific: Platforms for Change.