Jecko Siompo: Let’s Dance Papua!

Helly Minarti, Contributor/Jakarta  

What can a young Papuan man aspire to these days?

It is common for most educated Papuans to picture their futures either working in the government or holding down an office job.

The choice Jecko Siompo, 29, made about a decade ago was indeed an anomaly — he moved to Jakarta to enroll in the Jakarta Arts Institute’s dance department. There a cultural journey began.

At the institute, the Fakfak-born Jecko learned various dance styles, both traditional and modern. His sturdy, angular Papuan build tried to be as supple as a Javanese prince, or as agile as a Minang (West Sumatra) martial arts master; quite a process of crossing cultures. Out of school, later, he tried ballet and street dance (hip-hop dance culture), which added body and movement vocabulary to his resume.

“What’s so funny, the more I learned about these `foreign’ dances, the more I understand the Papuan ones — something that I used to do by habit. I mean, we dance for every occasion — hunting, fishing or weddings,” he said.

Back in Papua dancing was indeed part of daily life for Jecko — so why bother to study it? “I just wanted to,” he shrugs.

Jecko was lucky to have experienced living in different areas of Papua, from hinterland Wamena, coastal Fakfak, to the provincial capital Jayapura.

Dancing accompanied him throughout his childhood and adolescence, and he immersed in both hinterland (pedalaman) and coastal (pesisir) dance forms.

Entering high school, he occasionally visited the capital Jakarta, and briefly enrolled in a high school there. “I missed one class, so I decided to finish high school back in Papua, before I moved here later.”

At the institute, his physical features and his body movements attracted the older students, and soon he was being asked to dance in some of their pieces — most of them were already big names, or at least rising stars. “I danced for Mas Don (Sardono W. Kusumo), Gumarang Sakti, my teachers such as Mas Deddy (Luthan) and some others.”

He also became involved in choreography. Some of his early works seemed detached from Papua, which was a problem because Jecko always shone the most when working with Papua materials.

Apart from showcasing his work at local venues, he also performed at festivals such as the Indonesian Dance Festival. He was eventually invited to the Bates Dance Festival in Port Maine, U.S., as a guest choreographer.

During a trip to New York, he strolled through the city and saw with his own eyes the “original” hip-hop culture he learned about in the 1980s.

“I think something links North America and Papua when it comes to body and dance cultures, because the traces are so apparent,” he muses, theorizing how these two cultures might have criss-crossed in ancient times, through trade or other encounters.

“If Papua was technology-wise on a par with America, we would all be dancing like those people in Manhattan because we come from the same roots,” he said.

Returning home, he founded Jakarta Breakin’, a hip-hop group that performed in pubs, cafes and during different occasions.

“I stopped breaking since I hurt my knee, but I still keep in touch with them,” he said.

In 2003 he received a scholarship to study dance theater in Germany for four months. Instead of attending classes at Folkwang Tanz Studio, he tried to catch as many performances as possible in Germany and France.

“I skipped classes. I was way too tired,” he says. “Still, I learned a lot.”

There seems to be a sense of indifference in his conduct. Even in Jakarta, he would pop into a dance workshop (by an international artist) very late and spend the whole time sitting on a bench, watching.

He can appear moody and nonchalant, hiding a very keen perception. Once he refused to hold a general rehearsal for a solo dance, as if trying to hide his choreography, to the annoyance of everyone else around. But then, a few minutes into conversation, Jecko demonstrated that he stays up-to-date on issues in international contemporary dance and is aware of his artistic choices (which do not always end in rave reviews).

In his most recent dance piece, In Front Papua, Jecko narrated his own story — the “journeys” he made, but was far from literal. Instead, he projected images and impression of Papua through dancing bodies woven into Papua’s natural landscape.

The stage turned into various cultural/natural sights from his memory: the hanging bridge made of tree roots over the Membramo River, with all its alligators, pedestrians in Jayapura or Manhattan, beaches, mountains.

He also merges different body movements — stylized Papuan tribal dance steps, trivial gestures, the moonwalking he obviously copied from the King of Pop.

“Of course I will always have to come back to Papua, but sometimes I need distance. I position myself in front of Papua, outside it. Only then can I get inside again.”

With the support of a Papua-born government official who is a fan, Jecko might have the chance to go back to Papua more often and build new links with the sanggar (dance studio) founded by the local community. “I do not think I have ‘ruined’ my traditions. All I have taken is the spirit (of tradition) and my life in Papua.”

Sumber: Thejakarta Post

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