We Came from the East | JeckoSDancePhoto – Iwan Riduan

Choreographer Jeck Kurniawan Siompo Pui, better known by the catchy handle of Jecko Siompo, is pretty hot stuff in Indonesia and getting hotter on the world stage too. We Came from the East, his Australian debut, is an audacious Indonesian / German coproduction, featuring the distinctive tribal-meets-street hybrid style that has made Siompo famous.

With eight dancers from different regions of Indonesia busting moves alongside two German performers, the show puts forward the daring proposition that hip hop, and indeed all modern dance, has its roots in Siompo’s home state of West Papua.

At least, that’s what Siompo says he’s doing with it. I actually didn’t get that from the dancing and here I suppose is the inevitable trap of seeing avant garde art – every now and then you’ll hit one where whatever message was being aimed for flies straight by you. No matter. I suspect the “roots of hip hop” thing is actually more of a tongue in cheek provocation to taunt people into seeing the show in any case.

What the show did have was some impressively gymnastic tribal-inspired dance followed by some competent, if not game-changing, street dance. The tribal segments were where the real energy and artistry had gone, a fierce display of physical prowess. Shrieking and yelping, the dancers slithered and leapt and jerked and shuddered on the dim lit stage. This was Siompo’s signature style, “Animal Pop” as he calls it, in full swing. Tribal animal mimicry blended with frenetically detailed, almost mechanical motion, spasmodic and percussive. The troupe moved at times like a scatter of wild animals, at times like appendages of a single creature.

That part was fascinating to watch, although the cacophonously discordant soundtrack of industrial creaking and crunching didn't quite mesh with the action. Perhaps there was a symbolism there I missed. There would be a few. Once it got into the more modern dancing, not only did the cohesion of the dance troupe break down a bit but the show became cluttered with themes that never quite tied together.

There was the “roots of hip hop” theme, with booming voiceover on real and imagined histories of the art. There were what seemed to be some riffs on decay of tribal culture in the face of modernisation, with a boombox and western costumes and a guy in tribal regalia who ran off stage in the first scene and never came back til curtain call. There were Pinocchio references, I will never know why. Throughout it all, the soundtrack remained a wild card, frequently at odds with what was going on and almost always abrasively loud.

We Came from the East featured some talented and very hard working dancers but as a piece of stagecraft, the show was a bit of a muddle. Nonetheless, its season at the Malthouse is a rare chance to see contemporary Indonesian choreography in action and whether or not you follow the whole thing, you probably ain’t seen nothing like Siompo’s Animal Pop.

Jecko Siompo/JeckoSDance
We Came from the East

Choreography & Music Jecko Siompo

Venue: Malthouse Theatre, Beckett Theatre | 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Dates: Tue 18 – Sat 22 Oct, 2011
Tickets: $55.00 – $25.00
Bookings: M-TIX (03) 9685 5111 | Ticketmaster 1300 723 038

Part of the 2011 Melbourne Festival

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