Indonesia’s Papuan Hip-Hop Choreography to Play at the Singapore’s dance Festival

“Hip-hop was born in Papua in 1934,” says Indonesian choreographer Jecko Siompo. “You may not believe me, but my great-grandmother told me.”

We Came From The East, choreographed by Jecko Siompo.

This cheeky re-writing of dance history is done with a straight face in the introductory video to his upcoming production, We Came From The East.

The dance performance, which plays at the Esplanade’s da:ns festival next week, is playful and humorous – characteristic of his previous works.

Over the telephone from Jakarta, Jecko, 36, says the ambitious piece deals with “the evolution of dance”.

Offering his own brand of anthropology, he says: “Indonesia is a very ancient country with a very ancient culture. The embryo of dance was born in Indonesia.”

We Came From The East is a tongue- in-cheek way of sharing his worldview. Describing his dance, he says: “First you see people in ancient times in a natural environment with many animals. It’s the beginning of the world.

“Then they grow up and start building a small city, which eventually grows into a big one like New York or Paris.”

The bachelor has made a name for himself blending Papuan animalistic dance and hip-hop moves in his pieces, creating a unique, old-new, east-west style he calls “animal pop”.

Spending his childhood in a village in Papua, an Indonesian province on the island of New Guinea, he was lured by the bright lights of the capital city and enrolled in the Jakarta Institute for the Arts in 1994.

He went on to learn hip-hop in the United States and spent some time at the famous German dance company Folkwang Tanzstudio.

His pieces, which are energetic mash-ups of aboriginal dance as well as hip-hop, have been well-received.

In Front Of Papua, based on his return to his birthplace, was staged in 2007 at the National Museum of Singapore.

He was also included in the 2009 Singapore Arts Festival for Terima Kost (rented room in Indonesian) where the movements shifted between imitating animals in the jungle and urban routines.

In We Came From The East, he hopes to tease out the similarities between Indonesian aboriginal dance and hip- hop, which may seem worlds apart to many people.

Hip-hop is a street dance developed in the 1970s by African-Americans and it embraces a variety of styles, but some of its popular moves bear a resemblance to traditional dance, asserts Jecko.

In hip-hop, there is roboting, which imitates a dancing robot or mannequin. That is similar to a ‘statue’ dance in Papuan dance, where the dancers try to be as stiff as possible.

Jecko adds: “There’s the chicken dance in hip-hop and there’s a chicken dance in traditional Papuan dance, where we imitate a chicken.”

He may be making waves in the dance world for his bold synthesis of forms but back home in Papua, he needed to work hard to convince his parents that he had a legitimate career.

“Dancing was part of daily life’ in Papua but his parents, who were ‘office workers’, wanted him to get a government job. His two brothers and sisters are also ‘normal people who work in offices”.

His childhood was spent in the jungle, where he fished, swum in rivers and hunted for food. ‘I saw kangaroos and reptiles all the time,’ he says.

He was passionate about dance and wanted to do it for a living. He slipped away one day in 1994 and with some money stolen from his mother, he travelled by boat for a week to Jakarta.

That was where he first encountered hip-hop and enrolled at the Jakarta Institute for the Arts to learn a variety of Indonesian dance forms. It was only a year later that he went back home to Papua to see his parents.

“Nobody believed that I was studying. I had to show them my papers,” he says.

He even demonstrated his dance moves to them. “I danced on the table and on the chair, very slowly. I also did a slow-motion walk. They said: ‘That’s just movement, that’s not dance.'”

It took them five years to take him seriously, he says. It helped that they saw him perform on television.

Now that he is traveling for his work – We Came From The East is going to Melbourne after the Esplanade show and he is invited to give ‘animal pop’ workshops in Osaka – he says it is like a “dream come true.”

His connection to his birthplace will be a recurring theme in his work. “When I sleep, my body goes back to the jungle in Papua. When I wake up, I’m back in Jakarta again.”

Source: the Jakarta Globe

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