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Sardono’s Unprecedented Retrospective

by August 23, 2016 General

(Courtesy of Sardono W. Kusumo/SIFA)

A never seen collection of archive footage, shot with an 8mm camera since 1970, and experimental films by Indonesian dance maestro Sardono W. Kusumo made it onto screens for the first time at the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

In a tribute to the great painter Raden Saleh, Indonesia’s dance maestro Sardono W. Kusumo donned his replica clothing and walked the streets of Paris, the city where the painter once lived, contemplating its atmosphere and mood.

The film’s title, Raden Saleh After 200 Years, was an homage to the man from the Central Java town of Semarang whose talents let him become a royal painter in the Netherlands and France. Returning home, he continued painting, including creating his renowned anti-colonial piece on the capture of Prince Diponegoro.

In the film, the 71-year-old dancer-choreographer took the character of Raden Saleh in his advanced years, reflecting the mood of when he returned to Paris to show his wife his paintings in the Louvre, where he found none.

“I captured the feel by showing an empty Paris at night,” said Sardono. “An artist always makes a silent journey.”

Black Sun (Courtesy of Aka Kurnia/SIFA)

The 79-minute film is one of Sardono’s experimental films and part of an eye-opening collection of his archive footage, taken with an 8mm camera since 1970, being featured at the Expanded Cinema — one of the major showcases at the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), which runs until Sept. 17.

Curated by Ari Dina Krestiawan, the films and footage, screened at the Malay Heritage Center until Aug. 28, were a personal collection that had been re-mastered for the festival.

Expanded Cinema is one of three presentations of the Sardono Retrospective for the festival. The other two are his solo live painting, which was showcased on Aug. 20 and 21, and the Black Sun dance performance, scheduled for Aug. 26 and 27.

Kecak Sardono (Courtesy of Sardono W. Kusumo)

At one point in the Raden Saleh film, made in mid-2000s with the help of cinematographers Hadi Artomo and Faozan Rizal, Sardono even struck a pose, letting his long hair blow in reminiscence of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic pose.

“I worked on the [Raden Saleh] film for 10 years. I took the cinematographers because I wanted them to film me just like I did when I was young. In the process, I just called him and he filmed me. It’s done spontaneously,” Sardono said.

His other black-and-white footage came from as early as 1968, showing the moments where Sardono was rehearsing for Samgita, his very first dance show at the Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) arts center in Jakarta. Samgita is considered the first contemporary dance performance at TIM.

Other footage reveals not only the background context of Sardono’s famous modern kecak dance, seen by most tourists visiting Bali today, but also him dancing at the Borobudur Temple back in 1968.

At a time when technology had not spread across Indonesia, Sardono also filmed a tor-tor dance during a death ritual in Simalungun and a village celebration at Toba Lakeside in North Sumatra ( 1971 ), as well as documenting how the arrival of tourists on Nias Island had shaken the traditional and vulnerable people there back in 1978.

In rare scenes, he took viewers traveling the US for the Festival de Nancy ( 1973 ) and Paris where he first filmed Theatrical Improvisation under the Eiffel Tower ( 1973 ) when he was invited to give dance courses.

His footage also shows Affandi, one of Indonesia’s greatest painters, while he was in Japan ( 1970 ).

“Affandi was like Van Gogh for us. He did not use brushes but his fingers, directly onto the canvas. Many said that when I painted, I got the influence from him. I don’t use brushes. I just throw or pour oil paint and lift the canvas, maneuvering it using my dance movements,” said Sardono, who himself began painting in the 1980s and became fully committed to the craft in the early 2000s.

Sardono said he was not aware of his vast film and footage collection until the SIFA director, Ong Keng Sen, who at that time was an important festival curator in Europe and Japan, spotted it when visiting his studio in Surakarta, Central Java, about six years ago and asked him about it.

“If it was not for him, I would have forgotten it. He probably thought how come this Javanese man living in a small city had a camera at that time,” he laughed, adding that his wife took great care of his films. “It’s not like today when everyone carries gadgets with them.”

Keng Sen said he was fascinated by the images captured by the 8mm camera. “They remind us of what we’ve lost: the simplicity,” he said.

He cited one scene where dances were performed in a village and one image showed a little boy with his little guitar, strumming and performing while still clad in his sarong.

“It’s a very human picture. These kinds of images are lost because we’re just filled with suspicion and looking at the others in judgmental ways. This affects how we live in Southeast Asia. Even if we don’t say it out loud, the feeling is in our heads, in our minds,” he said.

“Through this festival we just try to open up different perspectives, not the typical perspective of fear.”