Celebrated transgender dancer Didik Nini Thowok has performed with us twice in New Zealand as well as in Indonesia at the 2007 Yoygakarta Gamelan Festival.
Te Papa’s 10th Anniversary, 2008
At Te Papa, Didik performed traditional Javanese and Balinese dance, with live music from Gamelan Padhang Moncar and Gamelan Taniwha Jaya. He also danced the Maori story of Rona e te Marama (‘Rona and the Moon’) to music by Gareth Farr for both gamelan combined. This work had premiered at the 2007 Yogyakarta Gamelan Festival.
Didik was joined in a newly choreographed Balinese dance by Evie Suyadnyani, a dancer visiting from Bali. They danced exquisitely to music composed especially for them by I Wayan Gde Yudane.
A Night to Remember, 2004
Didik was joined in by cross-dressing Gareth Farr (Lilith La Croix) for an outrageous evening of dance and music from both Java and Bali, with a bit of flamenco thrown in. Gamelan Padhang Moncar and Gamelan Taniwha Jaya combined forces for this one-off event in May 2004 which played to a capacity audience at Soundings Theatre in Te Papa.
Night of contrasts a venerable delight
WHAT: A Night to Remember
WHERE: Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, Sunday
REVIEWED BY: Jennifer Shennan
A NIGHT to Remember was a cross-over programme of dance and music, including gamelan orchestras in both Javanese and Balinese styles. There were two male performers in female roles, court dances freed from tradition then camped up cabaret fashion, and characters in comic routines. A capacity audience delighted in these contrasting elements, the programme presented by Jack Body.
Didik Nini Thowok, from Indonesia, is a celebrated dancer specialising in female roles. The opening Javanese dance, Gambyong, displayed those curious repetitions of long scarf tails flicking up and outward, as if a coquette’s flirtations. In another, Didik made skilful play between the illusion of Siamese twin characters, alternately refined and rude, masks worn front and back of head.
A further bracket had cleverly contrasting masked characters, each with its own personality and gait — shy girl, clumsy clown, perplexed penguin, ape-like buffoon. There was a graceful Chinese-silk ribbon dance as well as allusion to an Indian alarippu.
In all these items, it seemed as if a skilled puppeteer was playing the strings - except that, as in much Indonesian dance, the stylisation of movement suggests the dancing body is itself an elegant puppet.
Gareth Farr, aka Lilith, performed in fire engine-red outfit his/her flamenco and jazz cabaret numbers with aplomb, but then tottered on heels-this-high to a place in the Balinese gamelan. These were scintillating sounds, bright and aggressive in dazzling arrangements by Wayan Yudane, and a new composition, Gending Lonthe, by Farr.
In contrast were the more languid and reserved tones of the Javanese instruments, led by Budi Putra with the hypnotic voice of Andra Patterson, and several players including Jo Hilder, Sue Street and Yono Sukarno crossing the floor to play in both ensembles.
An improvised encounter between the two dancers was a hoofed-along affair. But when all the fun and frivolity was through, the final item, with both gamelan bands playing simultaneously, saw Didik enter with a trembling Ganungan Tree-of-Life shadow mask. He emerged as a shimmering soloist in Balinese legong style — an endangered species of a dance if ever there was one — among the finest in the world. That venerable tradition had exquisite tiny girls dancing to placate the good spirits and keep evil at bay. What country doesn’t need them?
Hands were twined into shapes of rare orchids, fingers in fine tremolo like a nervous butterfly or a bee on the wing, fan in frantic flapping, then calming to a steady breath, as though alighted now on the flower. Nectar is found; soon there will be honey. The miracle is that anyone — regardless of gender, age or ethnicity should dance like this. Two ends of a spectrum that meet in the middle; nothing ever simply old nor brand new — just honeys made from different flora.