by Rosie van Heerde.

Described as both “rhythmic and unnerving”, Cry Jailolo is billed as a “gripping, edge-of-your-seat dance” and a highlight of the OzAsia Festival 2015 calendar. Brought to Australian audiences by renowned choreographer Eko Supriyanto, Cry Jailolo is inspired by an authentic tribal dance from the Indonesian province of North Maluku. The dance explores the reliance on the waters of Jailolo Bay for their livelihood and the man made threats to the great beauty of its coral reefs.

The Clothesline speaks to Eko Supriyanto, via email.

You have been described as being “determined” to dance since childhood. How important was your grandfather Djojoparjitno in steering your dancing direction? It seems like there were a number of challenges, including dealing with the teasing of your school friends.

“My grandfather did have an influence on my dancing and definitely passed his talents onto his grandchildren,” he replies. “It wasn’t until I was seven or eight years old though that I realised he was giving me more attention than my male cousin, who was also studying dance. When I was in high school I actually felt a bit ashamed because dance was considered a hobby for women.”

You already had a strong reputation as a dancer in Indonesia but became famous after landing a dancing role touring with Madonna.

“I didn’t really know of Madonna when I auditioned for her Drowned World Tour. It was pretty cool when I realised that it was a big deal and that I was the only foreigner on the dance team. We were surrounded by luxury and VIP treatment and that really opened my eyes to the bigger world of dance.

Continuing to elaborate on this experience, Supriyanto explains, “I realised dance extended beyond what I had studied at UCLA, with theory, cultural understanding, politics, gender, collaboration, east and west and so on. Through the Drowned World Tour I learned about the other side of dance – the worlds of business in the arts, dance, and pop music, as well as managing aspects such as contracts and agencies.”

You have been highly sought after as a dancer and choreographer for many years – do you have a favourite work or performance and why?

Lah and Leleh are two of my favourite pieces, which I created for the Indonesian Dance Festival in 1993 and 1996. They both have elements of a lot of research and the process of making these pieces took more than a year before I actually performed them. For both of those pieces I was dancer and choreographer. And to be honest those pieces honed my focus on contemporary dance, just as Cry Jailolo has done.”

Cry Jailolo 2 - OzAsia Festival 2015 - The Clothesline

How do you now make decisions about which projects you will tackle?

“I put a lot of research into each project with a non-Javanese element around the idea and material. I just realised that I need to dive deeper into the creative process of other intra-cultural aspects of Indonesian artistic diversity.

“As Indonesian cultures are so diverse, I like to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone.” he continues. “I am a Javanese dancer but I believe you need to look beyond Java, beyond my own tradition and culture, and seek other aspects of cultural differences. Diversity is so good and I enjoy pushing my comfort zone.”

Artistically, is there anything you most want to do/achieve/try?

“Yes, dive, dance, dive and dance! I want to uncover new aspects of dancing under water. Creating a dance piece underwater provides new challenges – things feel different under water, the anti-gravity, new zone of instability. To do research on how the body works underwater, is a new artistic way of understanding body and dance.”

Cry Jailolo has recently enjoyed its Australian premiere in Darwin and will soon head south to Adelaide. Have you performed in Australia before? How have you found Australian audiences have responded to your current work?

“I performed once in Sydney with MAU, a Lemi Ponifasio piece called Tempest for the Sydney Festival. I danced for that piece, but didn’t do choreography. Cry Jailolo premiered in Darwin last August and it was very well received. Australian audiences really appreciate the dance, the dancers and the concept that I was seeking to address with the work. They connect with new Indonesian works, because it’s not just from Java, Bali or Sumatra, but represents the east part of Indonesia.”

Can you describe the message that is at the core of Cry Jailolo?

“It explores the underwater world, optimism, schooling fish, East part of Indonesia, an island dance and youth performers.”

In terms of dance, explain the style/ influences to be found in Cry Jailolo for an audience who may know little of Indonesian dance.

“It is new also for me this ‘legu Salai’ dance from the Sahu tribe in Jailolo, West Halmahera, North Maluku. It is a typical folk dance with simple movements and repetition. However, I found it more of a raw expression for male dancers, honest and pure, as you find in traditional Indonesian dance.”

The dancers are young men from the Jailolo Bay area rather than ‘professional’ dancers.

“The show features six young male ages aged 17 to 21 who have only a high-school education and never studied dance, so they’ve never performed anywhere such as a theatre space before. They climb coconut trees for a living, for cash and to help their parents. Their aspirations were to be in the military or policemen, such as their parents, as this is a good way to find work and support your family.

“Performing in Australia has already changed their reality, as most of them want to leave Jailolo now and pursue their dreams to become singers, artists or librarians. Higher education is now what they are searching, and they realise the importance of this.”

Supriyanto continues to describe their Australian experiences. “They are always amazed by the food, the clean hotels and apartments, also how organised the cars and the traffic are and how people in Darwin like to drink big glasses of beer. But most of them feel they are learning so much on this tour in so many different ways.”

What is the best advice you could give someone on how to stay passionate about their work, no matter what they do?

“Trust and believe in what you are doing, seek out new challenges and discuss and seek advice from many friends, colleagues and elders and always keep open mind.”

Cry Jailolo performs at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, from 7.30pm on Thu 24 Sep until Sat 26 Sep.

Book at BASS on 131 246 or bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.

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