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Mothers and daughters

Women's power to rule is explored in an Indonesian dance-theatre performance

Published on October 20, 2007

Mothers and daughters


Would the world be a better place if it were ruled by women? This was the central question posed by Dutch-Indonesian theatre director Gerard Mosterd and Sumatran choreographer Boi Sakti in the recent dynamic dance-theatre piece staged last month at Patravadi Theatre.

Written as an eye-catching, if difficult to read "pARa_DIsE: a woman? BunDo kAnDuanG", this thought-provoking work, which has now headed off to the Netherlands, led viewers into unknown territory, but kept them intrigued and enthralled for the whole 60 minutes.

A combination of traditional martial arts and ritual perambulation with modern staging techniques and multimedia materials, this collaboration merged the unique matrilineal society of the Minang ethnic group in West Sumatra with male-dominated globalism.

Accompanied by traditional music written by Minang composer Dony Irawan, an international troupe, made up of four Indonesians, one Japanese and two European dancers, played out Sakti's interest in the legend of Bundo Kanduang, the powerful Minang Queen Mother.

"Paradise" also reflects Mosterd's concern over man's connection with the natural world. He contends that people live in two worlds: the vertical world of skyscraper-dwelling, money-obsessed individuals, or the horizontal world that most Sumatrans belong to, where technology and the power of money doesn't yet hold sway.

The battling duo at the beginning of the performance represented the eternal struggle for control, with both dancers prostrating, straddling and covering each other's eyes, as they fought out their refusal to compromise.

In the meantime, a dancer wearing a magnificent garish headdress  the symbol of married life for the Minang  moved calmly and uninterruptedly, her eyes fixed on a distant future.

The most shocking moment was undoubtedly the cutting down of the lingam by a female dancer, but the strongest message was conveyed in the last scene when one of the dancers poured white sand from a kettle on to the ground, forming a bright circle.

The circle is an ancient symbol of fertility: the wholeness and infinite reach of female power. The female dancer's ritualistic walk was soon interrupted by a male dancer, who dashed across the boundary line and started prancing furiously in the middle of the ring.

The two then took the audience back to the mythic origins of the spectacle, with the man struggling to escape woman's power and regain control, only to finally to realise that he couldn't escape her warm embrace.

While "Paradise" explored the unique culture of a specific region, it also drew in the wider, male-dominated world through a multimedia presentation on the backdrop, which featured pictures of skyscrapers in the Indonesian capital juxtaposed with Minang women in their village.

Next month, Patravadi Theatre hosts the much-anticipated dance-theatre production "Quick Silver" by Ko Murobushi. For more information, call (02) 412 7287-8, or visit Patravaditheatre.com.

Montakarn Suvanatap is a third-year student in Chulalongkorn University's dramatic arts honours programme. He can be contacted at lukkal@hotmail.com.

Montakarn Suvanatap

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