Dedy Luthan: The dancer still has moves
Utami Diah Kusumawati, Contributor, Jakarta | People | Fri, May 09 2014, 1:24 PM
A stroke may have slowed down Dedy Luthan, but it has done nothing to dim his passion for creating dances inspired by the local wisdom of the people of Kalimantan.
The hospital room was dimly lit and Dedy was in bed, sporting tousled grey hair. The doctors had cleared him to go home, although he still looked weak and vulnerable.
Dedy, a noted choreographer and dancer, has for decades created dances rooted in tradition.
Born in 1951 in Jakarta, Dedy, a Minangkabau whose full name is Hendrawanto Pandji Akbar, studied dance and choreography, eventually receiving a doctorate from the Indonesian Arts Institute in Surakarta, Central Java.
He has also been the chief of the dance committee of the Jakarta Arts Council.
The 63-year-old suffered a second stroke while choreographing Hutan Pasir Sunyi (Silent Sand Forest) as part of his dissertation.
The stroke happened less than a month before his troupe, the Dedy Luthan Dance Company (DLDC), was to perform at the Bogor Botanical Garden on May 13, among other venues. Dedy, however, is determined to finish the performances.
“My upcoming piece is about environmental damage, especially to the forest, and its relation to the degradation of the value of arts in East Kalimantan,” Dedy said.
The fatigue in his face diminished and was replaced by a sudden wave of enthusiasm. He talked animatedly as if he never had a stroke.
Dedy pushed himself to explain what he has seen and experienced in East Kalimantan, although his speech was at times unclear. His wife, the choreographer and dancer Elly Luthan, occasionally helped explain his words.
For the upcoming performance, Dedy explored three East Kalimantan tribes, the Dayak Kayan in New Miau village in East Kutai, the Dayak Benuaq in West Kutai and the Dayak Wehea in Selabing, East Kutai.
It is familiar territory for the frequent visitor to Kalimantan. He has traveled between Jakarta and Kalimantan since 1974 to research traditional ritual dances that have inspired his own performances.
Dedy said that the forest held special meaning for Kalimantan’s indigenous people as a source of life and a sacred place for their rituals. “When the forest is gone, so will be the lives of these traditional people. Their identity comes from the forest.”
Dedy has performed the Petutung Pekah, which depicted the peaceful life of a Dayak tribe and their closeness to the forest, and choreographed Cahaya Sendawar Sakti, highlighting the life of West Kutai people along the Mahakam River.
On 2009, he showcased a dance based on the Hudoq Kenyah and Modang harvest rituals for a well-heeled audience at the tony Dharmawangsa Hotel in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta. Giant bird-like dancers performed, their bodies covered with leaves and coarse grass, their faces hidden behind huge wooden masks.
Eventually, Dedy was ritually embraced by the members of one Dayak community that he frequently visited. “They slit my arm slightly so that it bled a little. Then, they mixed my blood with their blood as a symbol of recognition,” he said.
“It really touched my heart.”
The Dayak Kenyah chief then gave Dedy a ritual name that translates as “the person who likes to have an adventurous life and is eager to learn a lot in many places”.
However, it is not easy to see authentic ritual performance in Kalimantan these days, Dedy said, with most performances staged for tourists.
“The fact is that performance or the arts for the people of Kalimantan doesn’t function as entertainment but as an integral part of their daily lives,” he said.
The arrival of Christianity and Islam in Kalimantan coupled with a requirement to adhere to one of the government’s sanctioned religions has led to the decline of indigenous beliefs and the rituals that support indigenous culture.
As an example, Dedy said that he once saw several carved wooden masks disposed of by village chiefs in a river near their village. The masks, used for rituals according to indigenous beliefs, were not compatible with the new faith of the local residents.
The masks were taken and sold by middleman from outside Kalimantan to foreigners for a hefty price, with none of the money returned to the people who made them.
His eyes welled. “It also highlights the problem of shifting faith from traditional beliefs to newer religions and its impact on the life of Kalimantan’s traditional people.”
Dedy’s knowledge comes from research and a motivation to learn first hand. He said that he would seek out different communities with the intention of studying their traditions and learning about the life of the local dance maestros.
“I stayed, talked, discussed with the local people as well as the maestros and learned on how they lived their life,” he said. “It always provides me with a strong foundation for the dances.”
Dedy said that he did not want to exploit the cultures that have given him so much source material. Whenever he came upon the dance of a people in a remote place, he would perform his interpretation of it before the local community before bringing it to Jakarta.
“Creating a dance needs lengthy and solitary contemplation. It’s never been an instant and quick process,” Dedy said.
The Dedy Luthan Dance Company will present performances of Silent Sand Forest and the Legend of Lendak River at the Grand Indonesia Shopping Center West Mall’s Gallery Auditorium, across from the Blitz Megaplex, at 3 p.m. on May 10 and 11, respectively.
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