SangHawa and Rantau Berbisik

SangHawa and Rantau Berbisik OzAsiaPresented by Nan Jombang Dance Company and the OzAsia Festival
Reviewed Thursday 23rd September 2010

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 7:30pm Friday 24th September
Duration: 1hr 55mins incl interval
Tickets: Adult $35/Conc $28/students $15/child/$10/family and group prices
Bookings: BASS or 131 248

This company was formed by its choreographer, Ery Mefri, and the members are all his children. They are from Padang in the Minangkabau region of West Sumatra, Indonesia, and their performance draws on the cultural traditions of that region as well as contemporary western dance techniques. Nan Jombang means charisma, and this is indeed a charismatic group.

The first piece, SangHawa (Eve), featured his daughter, Angga, and his son, Rio. Eve is, of course, the first woman created by God in the Christian/Jewish/Islamic traditions. Minangkabau is a matriarchal society and this works blends the two concepts in an abstract dance work in which a son asks his mother’s permission to travel in search of wealth and she tries to dissuade him.

The work is performed in silence, other than brief moments of Angga’s traditional, plaintive singing and some spoken poetry between them. This dance form is characterised by long periods of slowly evolving streams of ideas, interspersed with sudden brief bursts of rapid movement, great balance and body control and includes martial arts techniques.

The lighting design, by David Walters, is a vital part of this work, with patterns on the floor, like sunlight through trees, one simple change with the parting of the curtains at the rear revealing a sky, and intricate use of various sized pools of light on the dancers, delineating different areas and scenes.

This was a piece of great beauty, tinged with deep sadness, and with a strong sense of spirituality. The often sensuous movements and the strong bond between mother and son were clearly expressed is this magnificent performance.

The second and longer piece, Rantau Berbisik (Whispering of Exile), saw the return of Angga and Rio, this time joined by Ery’s three other daughters, Gaby, Ririn and Intan. This work has more of a narrative to it. Set in a restaurant it explores the tradition of Minangkabau men migrating to seek their fortune before returning home to their families. Many set up ‘nasi padang’ restaurants and this piece shows a family running just such an establishment. As the day goes on, conflicts arise, but the arrival of the mother brings a return to peace and harmony.

As before, much of the work is performed in silence, with occasional traditional singing, but this time there is the addition of percussion. It begins with the three women who are standing around a shelved table loaded with crockery and a rhythmic pulse of rattling crockery develops into what can best be described as a kitchen Gamelan orchestra as they tap the various bowls and plates, creating different notes. Rio adds his own rhythms with his hands on the table and chairs as well as his body. The three women then move away from the table and begin plate-dancing, eventually placing the plates on the table and joining their brother in clapping, body percussion, tapping on the tables and chairs as well as stretching their costumes tightly and hitting the taught material.

Again, David Walters lighting plays a big part in creating the atmosphere for this piece. We see, once more, the marvellous control of their bodies, no doubt due to the martial arts training that is the basis of this dance form, and the feeling of spirituality tinged with sadness is in evidence. This was a moving and profound evening of dance and a rare opportunity to see this dance style performed. If you can still get a ticket, do so.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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