‘Why stillness? Stillness is not needed for equality.’

 

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In December 2018 i trained and performed in Central Java with my teacher Pak Suprapto Suryodarmo (Prapto). Our basis was in Solo/Surakarta city, where we practiced at Taman Budaya Surakarta and Wisma Seni. We also worked at the mythical and mystical Parangtritis beach (5 days) and at 15th Century Hindu Sukuh Temple on the mountain Lawu (10 days). On our ways from and to Parangtritis we stopped and practised at Plaosan Temple, Barong Temple and Ratu Boko. One morning we also worked at Ceto Temple, close to Sukuh Temple, an incredibly beautiful and slightly risky journey to another part of the mountain, through almost vertical tea plantations and terraced fields with rice and onions.

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In the practice group were four Chinese and two Russian participants and myself. During all this time Indonesian dancers, actors, musicians and healing art practisioners from different islands were coming in and out to visit, to meet, to exchange and discuss, to work for one or more days and/or to perform. 

Among the Indonesian artists that joined, I performed with Widya Ayu Kusumawardani (Purbalingga / Solo, Java) and Alexander Gebe (Lampung, Sumatra) and several musicians from Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi. 

Needless to say, much happened in these four weeks i was in Indonesia. For this blog i will share some on stillness and (the lack of) silence in Java.

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Surrender

Listen

Tune

Part of SILENT DANCES is my wish to meet the audience in a shared sense of equality through working with stillness. 

Prapto has been bringing people together from different walks of life and religions in Indonesia and created works of different kinds, such as ritual performances (throughout Indonesia and at the UN after 9/11) and an interreligious music video, Mandala Salam*. He continuously creates situations where people don’t ‘only speak for themselves’, but where dialogue can happen, to hear and see, appreciate and honour each other in equality. 

So i wished to speak with him about his experience and my wish to work with a sense of equality through stillness in my dance. The first thing Prapto said when i brought this up was: ‘Why stillness?  Stillness is not needed for equality.’ There goes anticipation and wishful expectation i didn’t realize i had. It was an unexpected opener of our conversation. 

Dialogue. Tuning into each other. 

Exactly what i did ask for.

Listening. Connection.

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I felt i needed to perhaps listen differently. Not sure what that meant, there was a sense of allowing more of the unknown. Somehow this opened something behind my heart it seemed. In this listening i felt a new kind of stillness. Or somehow a stillness where i hadn’t let it be still yet. I wanted to allow this new unknown, so to speak. Perhaps we wouldn’t talk about stillness and equality. Not directly. But then we would talk about equality. And we would talk about stillness. And work with both. Connections would reveal themselves in time through practicing. 

 

The breathing of stillness itself

 

The question and the approach of Prapto brings me to what i wrote in my earlier blog post, about not wanting to use stillness as a way to keep silent, or as Audre Lorde’s book title says: “Your Silence Will Not Protect you.” I wrote about this here: https://stilltrajectory.wordpress.com/2018/10/21/stillness-equality-or-how-slavery-in-louisiana-and-in-the-netherlands-the-deep-story-and-learning-to-listen-relate-to-my-dances/

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Throughout our talk i answered the question of ‘Why stillness?’ in steps. It is something i continuously am answering and opening to and answering and opening to, to get as close and clear as i can to the heart of this work. Yet in a way, in this moment, answering this itself was not what mattered most it seemed to me. Although saying the things that have been with me for long in a new context to who i see as an artist activist, as many of my inspirations/examples are, somehow asks at the same time: ‘Are you sure about this?’ And i am. I don’t know anything about its possible impact or consequence or lack of this, but i feel clearly that this is my work now. So with all the answering and asking and opening to learn more, i have been working on the how. How do i actually practice to create this work? And this is what i could do in Java too. 

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Stillness and connection

How to work with stillness. Prapto pointed to a non-Javanese man that in that moment was walking on a path in the garden, disconnected, restless, not in touch with what was beyond the path. Prapto said that a Javanese person walks in connection with what else is in the garden. Something quiet, yet connected. There is openness. (Even if less so and more pointed now that there are mobile phones.) 

I worked with this throughout the practice time. Layers of it. Understandings. Mistunderstandings. Refinements. Openings. Revelations. 

The breathing of stillness itself

I see this in Prapto himself. This embodiment of stillness and connection. When i see him perform, when i see him walk or smoke or day dream.

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Why stillness to experience and share equality? 

simply: i love stillness 

I love stillness and i wish to share this love

But there is more to it. I see stillness as source, the heart of the space where we can truly meet. Before anything is known. And when everything is known. There is so much distraction. There is so much difficulty to dialogue. There is so much polarisation. There is so much to say. Maybe all of it wants to be said and heard. Maybe most of it needs to be heard. But for us to be able to allow it and to hear it, we need to be able to access that source of stillness. From there we can hear and see. From there we can speak or sing or dance differently. The need to polarise or be right dissolves. It encourages appreciation of each other and living together while having different opinions, wishes, forms, likes, dislikes, religions, preferences. It opens to a sense of equality. To really see each other.

“Everyone is transparent if we really watch.”   – Pina Bausch

Meeting beyond religion. Meeting beyond opinion. Through dialogue or through stillness? Through stillness, then dialogue? Meeting beyond imagination.

In another earlier blog post i write about this: https://stilltrajectory.wordpress.com/2018/12/03/meeting-beyond-imagination-ont-moeting-voorbij-de-verbeelding/ 

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Stillness is always there. Here.

To experience a shared stillness through dance. This excites me. I want to create that space. I want to dance that dance. I can only find it through becoming still. Actively. Alive. Fertile.

I love the word ‘fertile’ in relation to stillness. I had been using the words ‘aliveness’ and ‘dynamic’, ‘open’ in stillness. Fertile is a word that Prapto used in our conversations. The performances on the first of January were in the context of planting seeds as symbols and actualities to continue nature, life, to grow and evolve. To plant fertile seeds. Growing. Expanding. 

The fertility of stillness

Alive stillness in fertility

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Stillness. Practice. Mystery.

An experience: 1 January 2019: i am about to perform a duet with Alexander Gebe titled ‘Purification’. We were just asked to change the order with another duet and begin earlier. We are waiting under the trees when it starts to rain. Musim hujan. Rainy season. It is time. When we begin it comes down hard. The audience moves to sit underneath food stalls and tent roofs around the performance grounds. Everyone stays. Present. All we hear is the rain and in the background of that four musicians, flutes, vocals, percussion. Half way the performance we both stand in the center of the grassy stage, close to the rocks that form a face on the ground. I am holding long grasses, point them to the sky and look up. Right at that moment the rain pours down as hard as possible while still and just being able to define separate drops or lines. An incredible moment. Nothing that could have been staged this way would have the same power. Improvising. All of us witnessing this. We didn’t count on the gift of rain there and then. Grace. And being ready to receive it, surrender to it and move on. Practice in place. In performance.

Connection

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SILENCE

Silence is not needed for stillness. It can help. But it is not needed.

In these four weeks in Java I noticed only two moments of silence. Brief but clear and striking and so present because they are so rare. No motor bikes, no cars, no footsteps, no radio, no tofu seller’s tape, no bakso seller’s tune, no song, no frogs, no birds, no geckos, no crickets, no gamelan, no laughter, no talking, no praying, no wind in the trees, no rain on the roof. 

Silence 

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Relief i didn’t know i wanted. Until the next motor bike came up the mountain. But then when the moment of silence was gone, i didn’t miss it either. This is interesting to me because i love silence. 

I love silence

But i surrender in Indonesia. To the sounds being there. I let myself be included in the sound space as much as i am able to and as much as i am allowed to be part of it. I surrender to the sense of community living that seems to go along with all these sounds being around and never hearing anyone complain about it, to shared space, shared beauty, shared prayers, shared rituals, shared difficulties, shared slow time, shared sounds. And yet or perhaps because of this, i can’t be sure, there is a sense of stillness in everyone i meet. As if privacy is known and acknowledged in this stillness that is in each one and every one. 

Individuality and one ness.           Shared.           Equality.

This is also why i mention the work with the Indonesian artists in the beginning of this writing. It means much to me to be able to work with them. There is often some kind of instant connection in the depth of the dance. I relate this to this sense of stillness. Something else may be that my mother and all of her family was born in the Dutch East Indies and i feel kinship and immediate love for people in Indonesia. But in a way i relate this too to stillness. That space where all that could be in the way of meeting becomes quiet. 

Quiet. Then falls away. 

Like time. It falls away. Our meeting is now. Not in the past of my family. Not in the past of our families’ or countries’ histories. Simultaneously all of it is there somehow. No denial. Everything and nothing. 

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All of this and more.

To come back home feeling changed somehow somewhere. How can this be sustainable? 

Love. This. Live. Now. Be still. Be deep if you want to. But not holding. Moving to let it flow as it does. Practice. Notice.

Receive. Surrender. Choose. 

Allow change. 

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About those motor bikes… I love being on the back of one by way of transportation. In the city late at night to the pasar with a new friend in search of ‘gula kelapa’ (coconut palm sugar) and up and down the mountain passing villages on my one day off. I don’t mind the noise. The flow in the traffic asks for surrender. I feel quiet in the midst of what could be overwhelming movement and noise. I smell freedom. I prefer no helmet.

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For more photos of places where we worked, you can visit my facebook profile and scroll through December and January: www.facebook.com/lilykiaraNL

* Link to Interreligious Music Video ‘Mandala Salam’ with works by Indonesian Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist composers: https://youtu.be/-s0Dm7w7eRY

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