Coming in the midst of Lincoln Center Festival's large-scale productions by Merce Cunningham, Robert Wilson and Ariane Mnouchkine—and opening alongside the Bolshoi's season of grand, highly populated ballets—the intense focused program of three intriguing solos by Indonesian dander/choreographer Mugiyono Kasido was a welcome and fascinating oasis of calm.
The 38-year-old native of Java, making his New York debut, grew up in a family of puppeteers in the traditional Wayang Kulit, and began studying classical Indonesian dance at eight, continuing on through a college degree. He has directed his own troupe, Mugi Dance, since 1992 and worked on collaborative projects in Europe as well as Indonesia. A slightly built man with a strong brow and nearly bald head, he performs with a meditative air and exquisite control, projecting a deep inner clam and persuading you that his movements emerge from a powerful and intense sense of purpose. Nothing is extraneous or excessive.
He included substantial program notes for each solo, which were illuminating and helpful, but not overbearing. They provided the information that "Mencari Mata Candi" ("Searching for the Eye if the Temple") was inspired by the architecture and sculpture of a temple dedicated to Shiva, and that his performance represented "my search for the spirit of this ancient temple of Java." He performed to recorded contemporary gamelan score—interrupted occasionally for plaintive chants—and dressed in a distinctly contemporary manner, in pale grey t-shirt and blue three-quarter length pants. But from the opening moments, kneeled holding two elaborately decorated leaf-shaped fans, Kasido was clearly in touch with ancient traditions.
He advanced with a slow-motion stealthy walk, brandishing the two fans, and later brandished them so that they became wings, and the lighting momentarily shifted to create a shadow-puppet effect behind him. He always held them so close to him that they seemed part of his anatomy. When he turned them so that their reverse sides were visible, the face of a red demon on one of them was held so that it became his own.
Once he relinquished the fans, his movement emphasized deep squats and lunges; Kasido has a remarkable ability to drop suddenly and deeply, even on one leg. Everything he did was deliberate, and his expression remained impassive, his eyes downcast. His hand gestures were remarkably precise and detailed, and his feet communicated a delicacy and precision. As he progressed on this journey, his bending and folding reached a more grotesque, exaggerated state that suggested an inner struggle. The quiet, private nature of the work veered in a sharply different direction as his face became more animated and he launched into harsh, howling cries. A certain degree of calm prevailed at the end, as he was contained within a small circle of light, inching forward with his hands held up to his face.
The middle solo, "Kabar Kabur" ("Rumors"), was performed in silence, and though its program note indicated a political content—it reflects "the strife and social chaos, including riots" that ensued from the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998, a period when "society was terrorized by half-truths, unverifiable reports of events, and terrible rumors that spread like wildfire"—this was anything but a dogmatic presentation. Kasido performed it on a fairly small red rectangular platform in the center of the space, using his ability to balance and contort in unusual ways to express the experience of disorientation and unpredictability.
After approaching the platform hesitantly, he began as though testing his ability to manipulate parts of his body, at tines with a playful, teasing air, revealing his mobile, expressive features. When he dropped very low on one leg in a surprising, seemingly impossible manner, he amusingly "pumped" himself back up, as though activating an imaginary mechanism. In the most striking sequence, suggesting a vaudeville turn but at the same time evoking a mortifying loss of control, he "lost" one arm inside his stretchy large shirt, and in the course of "finding" it became entangled in a hilarious yet touching sequence of contortions, so that he was soon trapped within the twisted garment, reduced to a shrunken state. There was even a moment of "Lamentation"-like encasement, as the shirt expanded and contracted along with his agile and inventive body.
Slyly he manipulated the shirt into an upside-down position, then wrapped it so that it became a sarong. His body gained control and assertiveness as he struck martial poses, and even mimed shooting a gun. There was nothing cute or playful going on anymore, and the uneasy final moments had him twisting and rising into a gnarled arm balance, leaving us on a questioning, uncertain note.
The closing solo, "Bagaspati" ("From the Sun's Soul") was performed amid a sea of tiny votive candles, placed in asymmetrical patterns on either side of the space. Kasido wore a small white mask whose delicate, feminine expression featured a curling bright red smile, suggesting a private secret delight. This was his most restrained, minimal piece. Bare-chested, he wore a patterned draped garment with extra sections that he manipulated deftly and calmly as part of the choreography.
His program note describes the dance as intended "to create a sense of mystical union with the sun." His steady, unwavering and controlled movement, progressing through a series of risings and sinkings, suggested the relentless, inevitable cycle of the sun, and there was something intriguingly sensuous yet androgynous about this masked being. Hypnotic, new-yet-old-sounding gamelan music accompanied his journey, which culminated in slow, steady spinning. Within his closed-off, private ritualistic activity, Kasido managed to evoke a profound connection with timeless, uninterrupted, natural forces.
by Stephanie Berger: