WHEN we hear the word “hip-hop”, the first thing that comes to mind is Americans or African Americans. Yet Jecko Siompo is Indonesian, and he can really dance hip-hop.
Taking place as a part of the 2011 Melbourne Festival, We Came From The East will be performed by Jecko’s ten crew members – eight Indonesians and two Germans – and will showcase a mix between hip-hop and Papuan traditional dance.
The 36-year-old choreographer says even though the two dance styles are different in reality, they share a common style of movement.
“Hip-hop has a close relation with the traditional dance in Papua,” Siompo says.
“Many dances that are born in America actually originated in Indonesia, yet it becomes contemporary dance as we know now as the technology is developed. If there was no technology, maybe the dances in America would be the same as in Papua.”
A native Papuan, Siompo moved to Jakarta at the age of 18 and enrolled at the Jakarta Arts Institute, to study music. But after struggling to learn to read sheet music, he ended up pursuing the one thing he had taught his body to do since he was young: dancing.
“In Papua, dancing is a part of life. Dancing is our daily life. We who are born in Papua have learnt to throw spear, to catch fish, and to dance in religious terms from an early age. Our dance has a close connection to nature, and it’s been rooted down in my traditions,” he says.
After finishing his studies in Jakarta, Siompo honed his skills by studying dance in the better known birth place of hip-hop – the US. He then got a scholarship to study dance theatre in Germany at the Folkwang Tanz Studio.
His works have been performed in countries the world over, including Indonesia, Singapore, Germany, the US, and now Australia.
Most of Siompo’s early works portray only a distant link with his Papuan background. But after years spent journeying through other cultures, he has made a conscious decision to never forget his indigenous roots, and now incorporates contemporary dance with traditional styles.
Dance like you mean it
Siompo’s previous Papuan inspired pieces include Rats (Tikus-Tikus), The Sun is Shining in Papua (Matahari Itu Terbit di Papua), and Rooms for Rent (Terima). He says even though he believes some contemporary dances and Indonesian traditional dances share the same roots, technology has created a big gap between them.
“In Indonesia, most dances that I learn are the traditional ones, and every movement of the dance has a meaning behind it. If we move our hand, there is a meaning. If we walk, there is a meaning.
“After studying in the West, I honestly do not see the meaning behind (the dances). I just practice my movements in terms of physicality. The contemporary dances have been contaminated by developing technology, and they become merely entertainment. It’s all about technique, technique, and technique,” he says.
By sharing the mixed-style We Came From The East, Siompo hopes to bring audiences around to his view of hip-hop’s origins.
“We Came From The East shows that the embryo of almost all dance styles comes from the east of the world, and I’m specifically referring to Indonesia,” he says.
”I want to say that actually the ‘lost Atlantis’ is there in Indonesia. And I believe that Indonesia has the oldest civilisation in the world.”
Singapore’s The Strait Times has called We Came From The East “a force to be reckoned with”, while Indonesia’s Jakarta Globe reported that “eventually the stage becomes a whirling blur of movement, limbs twisting and bodies twirling with speed and grace.”
Widely known as a fresh and witty choreographer, Siompo will once again show his trademark style in this piece: the “animal pop”, which mimics the movements of wild animals. He says nature makes up an important part of humans’ lives – and has done so since long before the development of modern technology – and he wants to preserve it.
“In the old times, humans lived closely with nature. For example, to hunt a crocodile people must dance like a crocodile and, in a sense, take its spirit. After taking its spirit, he then is able to hunt the crocodile easily.
“So what’s important is the connection between humans and the nature. Since the development of technology, humans are more and more separated from nature, thus the dance evolves as well,” he says.
In parting, Siompo put forward this last remark: “I hope that all the audience that come will be entertained with what we perform from Indonesia.
“I truly believe that hip-hop was born in Papua. You don’t have to believe me, but my great-grandmother told me.”
We Came From the East runs from Tuesday October 18 to Saturday October 22 at the Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt St, Southbank. Tickets are $25 (students) and $55 (full).