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MEDIUM – Q&A with Andrew Ross

FOLLOWING LAST YEAR’S MUCH TALKED ABOUT PRODUCTION, CRY JAILOLO, Darwin Festival is again giving local audiences the chance to see the very best of Indonesian contemporary dance in another powerful and evocative world premiere. Off The Leash spoke to Andrew Ross, Artistic Director of the Darwin Festival, about this spectacular new work and his passion for Indonesian performing arts. 

You’ve spent a great deal of time in Indonesia. Tell us about your experiences there. 

I’ve seen performances in Indonesia since the 1970s. There was quite a strong contemporary dance scene in the 70s and 80s and then there was a bit of a gap until a new generation appeared. In 2002 I saw an outstanding Indonesian company and since then, we’ve seen a burgeoning of contemporary dance from Indonesia and an increasing interest in it from Europe and North America. 

How did Darwin Festival come to be involved in the co-production of Medium? 

This was through a variety of conversations. I was in Jakarta and I came across Karlien Meganck, the Performing Arts Programmer at deSingel in Belgium, and we talked a lot about Indonesian dance. I was living in Indonesia throughout 2013 producing the Indonesian Performing Arts Market so it was my responsibility to create links between the artists of the work and foreign buyers. I focused a lot on dance because it’s an international language and I think the highest quality of work in performing arts was being done in dance and music. deSingel came on as a partner and then brought on Germany’s Hessisches Staatsballett as the third partner. 

Medium is a passionate new work by Rianto. What was his inspiration in creating this? 

Rianto is such a remarkable performer. In Medium, Rianto is exploring a new language. It’s a cliché to say it’s taken Europe by storm – but it has. It’s contemporary, fresh and really new. It doesn’t look like other contemporary dance. Medium is based on Javanese ritual but it comes from Banyumas – so it doesn’t come from one of the high arts centres of Solo or Yogyakarta. Although Rianto studied those high art forms, Medium is based on Lengger – which isn’t just a dance style – it’s a ritual and entertainment that goes on around that particular part of Java. It’s everything – it’s dance, it’s comedy, it’s music, it’s philosophy, it’s a social gathering place, it’s religion. It epitomises what Indonesians call Kejawen – the fused spirituality of the Javanese. This work is an enormous passion for Rianto who plans to set up a house of Lengger – a study centre where young people study not only the dance but the whole philosophy and theology that goes with it. 

Rianto is collaborating with one of Indonesia’s leading filmmakers Garin Nugroho. How does that work? 

I teamed Rianto up with the internationally renowned filmmaker Garin Nugroho. Incorporating film with dance narrative in expressing some of the context of Medium will help the audience to read the work and engage with the emotion and ideas that are inherent in the work. Joining Rianto in the intimate setting of Brown’s Mart Theatre is a Kendang player. It’s completely live, acoustic and very intimate for the Darwin audience.

To find out more, visit the Darwin Festival website.

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