Spirit / Cloud is a two-screen dance-film installation, 15 minutes in length. The content can be experienced as a narrative from beginning to end, or as a continuing loop.
The project is a collaborative work between film-director Sean O’Brien, and dancer-choreographers Tony Yap and Agung Gunawan. The sound design will be by Madeleine Flynn and Dr. Tim Humphrey. Sean is from the southern Blue Mountains of NSW, Tony is Australian-Malaysian, and Agung is from central Java, Indonesia. Tim and Maddie are based in Melbourne.
Spirit / Cloud explores the idea of “melangkoli”, or melancholy, within the body, and within memory. How is one’s emotional and physical state influenced and altered, by loss, by change, by adaptation? The choreography and imagery expresses the loss and change in the dancers’ own lives, in their surrounding culture, and in their surrounding landscape and environment. There is an inevitable moving forward, while retaining a sense of what has gone before.
The two screens present Agung on the left, Tony on the right. The two dancers are separate beings, yet linked emotionally and physically through the shared experience of the “melangkoli” of their circumstances. Similarly, their dance work can be taken as both solo, and duo.
Each dancer’s specific experience drives the choreography/imagery directly, and elliptically.
Tony’s sense of loss and change is most keenly felt through the recent passing of his mother, in her home-town of Melaka, Malaysia. With the loss of a parent there is some evaporation of his one’s own identity. The ties that bind Tony to his childhood and his original Baba-Nonya culture are frayed, and he seeks to reclaim the bond.
Agung’s world was forever altered in the series of quakes that devastated his home-town of Yogjakarta in 2006. In an instant, the surrounding villages and communities were ruptured. Reality must be re-constructed, physically, brick by brick, but is something of the old Javanese culture lost in the process?
The dance unfolds in sites key to the performers, to their bodies, to their memories. In both Tony’s Malaysia, and Agung’s Yogjakarta, the south-east Asian pattern of culture and landscape is mirrored – home, village, temple, rural, wild. This landscape, intimately inhabited by the dancers throughout their lives, becomes the theatre for the dance. First within the family home; then into the streets of the village; inside the courtyards of the temple; to the rural landscape; beyond the man-made environment into the forests.
Across the 15-minute length, the choreography passes through the five locations, and through five stages of choreography.
The first stage: the family home, an encompassing enclave. For both dancers, with something so significant lost from their lives, there is a shattering of self. The longing for what has passed, the “melangkoli”, is at first overwhelming, and there is an initial physical and primal expression of shock and grief, played out within the walls of the home, where the loss is felt most keenly.
The second stage: the village. “Melangkoli” is not an isolated experience, it is shared. The dancers move into the streets of the immediate village community, and express their emotional and physical state publicly. Strength is drawn from the community, and the dancers’ expression is given back to the community.
The third stage: the temple. Ritual has a central place in the cultures in which Tony and Agung were raised. For Tony, the touchstone is the shamanic trance practice of the Toaist temples of Melaka. For Agung, it is the traditional dance style of Surya Kencana, set in the sacred grounds of the Kraton in Yogjakarta. Ritual is a way for the dancers to channel loss and grief into structure and meaning.
The fourth stage: the rural landscape. Outside the township, the earth has been worked for thousands of years. The dancers’ bodies move into this landscape, an environment cultivated by physical exertion, and signifying growth and survival. The power in the dancers’ bodies is highlighted in this terraced, shaped landscape of earth.
The fifth and final stage: into the forest. In pockets throughout the countryside of central Java and Malaysia, there are still wild places. Forests, limestone caves, volcanic peaks, and rivers. This is a landscape beyond settlement, and beyond human experience. The dancers’ enter this wild landscape. Their bodies become still. In the end, what remains is pure landscape.
With Tony and Agung’s encouragement I have developed the Spirit / Cloud dance-film proposal. I have devised the concept, but it is arising from a significant body of collaborative work that Tony and Agung are pursuing in Yogjarkarta, Java. The dance-film will be an extension of their work, and will be a three-way collaboration, as I bring my filmmaker’s eye, camera, and cinematic interpretation to the choreographic themes. The concept of the five locations and five choreographic stages is developed specifically for the camera. This concept removes the dance entirely from the confines of “theatre performance”, and allows the dancers to consider their work in a way that relates wholistically to their lives, and to the surrounding culture and environment. I will be working in situ with Tony and Agung, as a director, and as camera operator.
The dance-film project is able to take advantage of the infrastructure associated with Tony Yap’s fellowship, which will be partly based in Malaysia, and partly in Yogjarkata. The overall budget is significantly less than it might otherwise have been, as all of the costs associated with Tony are covered within his own fellowship. The filming is scheduled to take place in late October and early November 2008, in Malaysia and Yogjarkata. The bulk of the post-production will be done with my own gear, in my studio in the southern Blue Mountains, NSW.
The sound design by Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey will draw partly from location field-recordings – the sounds of the villages, the temples, the rural and natural landscapes – together with composition that is inspired by Tim and Maddie’s study of the vernacular of trance and ritual music of south-east Asia.
Choreography/performer: Tony Yap & Agung Gunawan
Filmmaker: Sean O'Brien
Composers: Tim Humphrey and Madeleine Flynn