By a serendipitous coincidence, OzAsia’s two main dance offerings this year are about people, but two people with very different lives.
Leigh Warren is creating Not According to Plan about the very much alive dancer, choreographer and academic Xiao Xiong Zhang, who plays himself, while Ade Suharto’s subject is a concubine, Ontosoroh, the heroine of an Indonesian political novel written between 1969 and 79 but set in 1889. On the line from Melbourne, where he is directing a revival of Piazzolla’s opera Maria of Buenos Aries, Warren tells me he wants to explore and celebrate the life of the multitalented Xiao, who was born in Cambodia in 1958, sent away at 13 to school and university in China, and did not see his parents again until 1983. The family arrived in Adelaide that year where, although trained in Chinese classical dance, Xiao had his first contact with contemporary western dance and ballet. A quick learner, in 1986 he joined Australian Dance Theatre, then directed by Warren; he later danced with Sydney’s One Extra Company and Vis-a-Vis in Canberra, and had teaching jobs in Hong Kong and China before moving to Taipei in 1996 where he is now a Professor at the Taipei National University of the Arts. Through all this, he has kept and developed a close connection with the Adelaide College of the Arts, teaching, choreographing, producing works and arranging exchanges with students from Adelaide and southeast Asia. Xiao is also a photographer, a calligrapher, a poet and he sings as well; Warren gives a characteristic chuckle as he talks about his rendition of Click Go the Shears in Mandarin. To organise elements of this multifaceted life into dance, Warren, ever a productive collaborator, has brought in master furniture maker Khai Liew for the set concept and construction, Alistair Trung, guru of the filmy drape, for costume – both of whom like Xiao have fl ed from their birthplace to Australia – award winning Geoff Cobham for lighting and Sabah-born musician and poet Jerome Kugan, based in Kuala Lumpur. As performers Xiao Xiang is bringing with him two Taipei students, Chan Wei and Yuen Li to join himself and Aidan Munn, an original member of Warren’s Australian Dance Theatre, and Bec Jones, the newest member of Leigh Warren Dance; it should prove a fascinating combination of talents. Warren is excited at the rich mixture he is working with – “the layers of maturity” he says he sees in the different members of the team, “the composite of so many different things” in their life stories, all contributing to this representation of the fertile creative life of Xiao Xiong. Adelaide-based Ade Suharto has been exploring her Indonesian dance heritage for some years now, and her In Lieu, which premiered at OzAsia 2011, was recently seen at London’s Gamelanathon, a festival celebrating 25 years of gamelan at the South Bank Centre – the only Australian show invited. With funding from several bodies, including Asialink, ArtsSA, the Australia Council and the Australia Indonesia Institute, she has been developing a collaborative work derived from Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s novel, The Earth of Mankind, the fi rst of a quartet written in prison, published in 1980, banned in 1981 on political grounds, translated into 33 languages, and not republished in Indonesia until 2005. The book portrays the injustice of life for the Indonesians under Dutch rule, and Suharto draws on the essence of the elegant Ontosoroh, a Dutch coloniser’s concubine who becomes an educated, independent, spiritually powerful woman. Pramoedya believed education was essential to taking charge of one’s life, and while Ontosoroh had no formal schooling, she learned from books, from observing the life around her and from her own experiences. She remained, however, oppressed by the power of colonialism. Like Warren, Suharto is a successful collaborator, and as choreographer and dancer she has been working with Peni Candra Rini, a composer and pesindhèn – a vocalist who sings with a gamelan – who wrote much of the text as well. Three musicians, percussionist Plenthe, violinist Prisha Bashori Musthofa and gendèr player Iswanto (a gender consists of 10 to 14 tuned metal bars suspended on a frame above a bamboo or metal resonator, played by tapping the bars with wooden mallet), roam the stage at times, participating in the work’s movement as well as providing sound and rhythm. The design is by Adelaide’s Justine Shih Pearson, making her fi rst visit to Indonesia. Speaking from Solo, about 460 km southeast of Jakarta, where the team has been working for several weeks, Suharto explained that she has been further developing a style of dance using a mixture of classical Indonesian and modern western idiom. Her friend Peni similarly mixes traditional and modern music in her songs. If In Lieu is anything to go by, Ontosoroh will be a treat for the eye, the ear – and the mind. OzAsia Ontosoroh Space Theatre, Monday, September 16 to Tuesday, September 17 Not According to Plan Space Theatre, Friday, September 20 to Saturday, September21 Images: 1. Not According to Plan 2. Ontosoroh – Photo by Arief Budianto 3. Ontosoroh – Photo by Arief Budianto