2020 Festival Report: Case Study
AUSTRALIA / INDONESIA
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Featuring Melbourne’s Lucy Guerin Inc and Indonesia’s Ensemble Tikoro, Metal – an intersection of contemporary dance and extreme heavy metal vocal technique – received its world premiere season at Arts Centre Melbourne.
Co-commissioned by Asia TOPA and Théâtre de la Ville Paris, the work resulted from an extensive two-year creative exploration between the two ensembles, hosted in Melbourne and Bandung, West Java.
“They vocalised and we moved, and we meshed those two things together so the dancers sang and the singers moved... we experimented with a whole bunch of ideas about our practices and how they could work together”. Lucy Guerin (Lucy Guerin Inc)
“Together we decided to look for meaning and ask new questions of metal itself. When Ensemble Tikoro and I sang and danced with the dancers from Lucy Guerin Inc, we were happy to be aligning more dangerously and deeply.” Robi Rusidana (Ensemble Tikoro)
Metal followed the success of Attractor, co-created by Guerin with Gideon Obarzanek, Dancenorth and Senyawa, which had premiered for the inaugural Asia TOPA. Attractor went on to receive two Helpmann awards, a Green Room award, and has been presented in 6 countries.
"I had an interest in Indonesian music from working with an amazing duo called Senyawa from Yogyakarta, and so I was interested in finding more underground music that seemed to be not just a fusion of things, but its own singular identity.” said Guerin.
"While our main stages lag behind, Australia’s independent artists are increasingly reaching out to their South East Asian collaborators, and vice versa. The cultural learning, logistics and resources needed to work together are a challenge for everyone but mobility and a lack of infrastructure can be a first-base impediment for Asia’s contemporary artists. Initiatives like Asia TOPA, the Playking Travel Grant program, and Arts Centre Melbourne’s Creative LABS respond directly to these needs so that artists can follow their own curiosities and creative connections”, observed Stephen Armstrong.
Stephen Armstrong and Annette Vieusseux, Executive Producer Lucy Guerin Inc first saw Ensemble Tikoro perform in Indonesia, while on a cultural delegation led by Carrillo Gantner and curated by Garin Nugroho and arranged by the Australia-Indonesia Institute of the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Vieusseux suggested to Guerin that the ensemble might be an interesting collaboration. After seeing videos of Ensemble Tikoro online, Guerin contacted Rusdiana and the ensemble to propose they explore a connection between their vastly different art forms. "We immediately decided to meet and to see if we had an interest in working together” said Guerin, "we definitely did.”
Three intensive creative development periods took place across a two-year period (July 2018 – December 2019). “Because we hadn’t worked together before, we started by thinking about how these two very extreme things come together, and how do these two cultures come together” said Guerin, "the context of a high-profile venue like Arts Centre Melbourne was at odds with the more informal performances that Tikoro usually present. I felt some responsibility to make the show work for them in that context which took away some of the more casual approach to performing that they are used to.”
Despite requiring a significant investment (including commissioning support from Asia TOPA and a Playking Travel Grant), the extended development engaged the full ensembles of dancers and vocalists travelling between Bandung and Melbourne. This enabled the creative team to explore and share ideas in real-time, and resulted in deep creative and cultural exchanges that strengthened bilateral links.
As Guerin describes, "When we were in Bandung we had incredible experiences, the singers took us to a traditional ceremony at the mountain volcano, and we went to a metal battle. We went to a really cool underground gig in an abandoned building with hardly any lighting and they made us this incredible banquet that was made from banana leaves different foods, every day was a cultural explosion – they are incredible hosts. All of these things seeped into the way we thought about the work.”
The creative process was highly collaborative, with two-way skills transference, "It’s interesting for me that certain things happen in my body that I might not choose to do otherwise, but because their sound is so driven from a physical place that it also drives a dancer's body.” said one dancer.
Another dancer added, "It was really interesting that as an ensemble they work with different layers where each voice is part of a whole body of sound, which for me really resonates with our own bodies.”
One of the vocalists noted, "For me it’s a new experience. It’s very different. In our music we use different counting for example, so it’s new and difficult, but we are enjoying it”.
Rusdiana observed a marked difference in the ways of working, in particular, a strict framework for creative developments in Australia, compared to a relatively organic way in which artists work in Indonesia "Working with Lucy has been one of our most professional experiences... So many of our vocal and timbre techniques have only just been discovered in the process of compiling Metal.”
Watch behind the scenes footage of Metal in creation
Co-Creators Lucy Guerin and Robi Rusdiana
Director/Choreographer Lucy Guerin
Composer Robi Rusdiana
Lighting Designer Paul Lim
Sound Designer Nick Roux
Costume Designer Andrew Treloar
Arum Dwi Hanantoro
Mahatma Adi Hartoko
Mita Siti Kulsum
Lucy Gerin Inc
Gregory Lorenzutti - Robi Rusdiana headshot
Robi Rusdiana is the founder of Ensemble Tikoro, an extreme metal vocals ensemble using metal vocal techniques, throat singing, gangsa, and exploring other extended vocal techniques. He holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Pendidikan Indonesia and a Master of Arts from ISBI Bandung. Robi is also a lecturer at Telkom University in sound design and cultural studies and teaches piano and counterpoint at the University of Pasundan. Ensemble Tikoro performs regularly in their hometown, Bandung and several members of the Ensemble are part of some of Indonesia’s most well-known metal bands, one of which, ‘Beside’, performed at Wacken Open Air in Germany. As Rusdiana says, "in Indonesia usually, my guys have their own bands in the underground scene and they are rock stars"
Ross Coulter - Lucy Guerin headshot
Lucy Guerin is the founder of contemporary dance company Lucy Guerin Inc in Melbourne. She established the company to support the development, creation and touring of new works with a focus on challenging and extending the concepts and practice of contemporary dance. Her honours and awards include Green Room Awards, Bessie Award, Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards, a Prix a-auteur and Helpmann Awards for Best Dance Work and Best Choreography. Recent works include The Dark Chorus (2016), Split and Attractor (2017) and Make Your Own World (2019). Attractor was commissioned by Asia TOPA for creation by Lucy Guerin Inc, Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi from the Javanese music duo Senyawa, and Gideon Obarzanek, Dance North. Since its world premiere at Asia TOPA 2017, the highly acclaimed work has performed international seasons across Asia, North America and Europe.
Metal premiered at The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne with five well-attended performances. In anticipation of visiting and diaspora audiences from Indonesia, pre-show announcements were made in English and Bahasa.
There was a high cross-over of attendance for Metal with other Asia TOPA events, 26% were first time ticket buyers at Arts Centre Melbourne, and the performances attracted many local dance sector representatives and international delegates from the Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM).
Adding context to the season, Guerin and Rusdiana presented an “in-conversation” talk at MPavilion as part of Asia TOPA’s Public Program – a series of talks, masterclasses and workshops exploring themes of Asia TOPA works and dynamics of the Indo-Pacific. The Public Program was curated by visiting Indonesian academic, Dr Sadiah Boonstra, appointed as an Asia Scholar at the University of Melbourne to oversee the aligned activities.
Ensemble Tikoro also gave a spontaneous pop-up performance at the informal artist hub that had formed around HuRU hARa at the Abbotsford Convent.
Metal’s premiere received an overwhelmingly positive reception from the media and Melbourne’s well-established contemporary dance community, who turned out in force to support the work.
Carolyn Oei from Singapore’s digital media platform Arts Equator commented that “the quiet quickly fizzles into the features of Ensemble Tikoro’s signature sounds… what ensues is a constant state of exchange between the dancers and the choir; a series of high-energy tableaux sequences comprising tag team-like interactions between choir and dancers.”
One audience member said “The work challenges our perceptions of contemporary performance and also challenges Western perceptions of what a choir is.”, Another said, “I liked seeing a piece that was clearly collaborative, rather than an interpretation or appropriation of one culture by another. Actually, I like this about Asia TOPA in general.”
There was also some discussion about how the work could be received and interpreted. Some audience members, particularly those from diaspora communities and their advocates, viewed the work as presenting problematic stereotypes, highlighted by the predominantly male vocalists and an all-female dance ensemble.
One stakeholder said “It might be that projects like Metal are developed in a respectful intercultural way, or with that as an aspiration, but ultimately an artistic work will be ‘read’ in the context of the politics of gender, race and culture.”
A delegate to the Australian Performing Arts Market who attended the premiere said “The skill and talent of all of the performers was so clear, and beautiful to witness. Though it felt like the Indonesian performers were brought all the way into Lucy's world, and it seemed as though there was little effort to understand, work with, or mine Robi's world, and that of the vocalists. This 'one-way' process that I describe becomes acutely problematic when the two parties represent very distinct cultural backgrounds.”
The creative team were aware of extreme points of opposition between the worlds of heavy metal and dance. Rusdiana described Ensemble Tikoro as a “brutal boy band” and Guerin described an intentional decision to counter that intensity with “a more refined, precise and disciplined approach of the dance”.
“There were quite a lot of extreme contradictions between the two groups which we found very exciting” said Guerin, “questions about how do these two groups work, how do they come together, and what does that meeting produce?”
“We did think about whether the kind of brutality and aggressive energy of the Indonesian singers would place them in a hierarchical relationship to the dancers, but whatever we tried, that energy and rawness was fundamental to their form. That’s what they’re into. That’s heavy metal, and it’s a highly rigorous and developed art requiring exemplary technique!”
A contributing factor to the divided reception appeared to be the degree to which audience members had engaged with pre-event context, for example through:
- the public program curated by Dr. Sadiah Boonstra
- extensive video content and documentation shared by Lucy Guerin Inc.;
- the event daybills; or
- previously with the work of Lucy Guerin Inc.
“I loved it… having the development videos online were wonderful and helped me feel even more excited about going. I would have gone to the discussion about the creation process, but I had a previous commitment.” (Audience member)
The highly-respectful and exploratory process of collaboration between the Australian and Indonesian artists in Metal demonstrates the cultural, as well as artistic benefits of investing in extended creative development. The artists developed strong relationships through meaningful cultural exchanges, in addition to creative and professional development opportunities.
A lasting legacy noted by Guerin was "to establish a deeper connection for Lucy Guerin Inc. and Indonesian artists with plans to initiate an exchange residency with an Indonesian and an Australian choreographer."
The critical response underscores the value of contextualising intercultural work for local audiences.
Rusdiana believes that Metal may change and adapt for different audiences, saying, “we must explain about our works through pre-show talks or maybe short videos, because different places will have small differences, so we must condition that very well. “
On reflection, Public Program curator Dr. Sadiah Boonstra said, “There are so many layers to consider… thinking about how to communicate or frame works for an audience, making sure these works land in a safe context”. She also highlights opportunities to engage local diaspora communities more deeply in helping artists to develop and present intercultural work.
Guerin added “It was so great to see Ensemble Tikoro in the public program doing what they usually do. It was a very important part of the program.”
Following the Melbourne season, Metal was to tour nationally and internationally, with discussions in progress with presenters in Perth and Sydney, as well as France, Belgium and the Netherlands and Paris, although these plans are now on hold due to travel restrictions.
In the meantime, an archival recording of Metal has been made publicly available on the Asia TOPA website that has been popular with local and international audiences.
Ross Coulter – Lucy Guerin headshot
Gregory Lorenzutti – Robi Rusdiana headshot
Gregory Lorenzutti – Main image, Gallery images
Mathew Lynn – ‘Presentation embedded image
Gregory Lorenzutti – 'Legacy' embedded image
Maarten Nauw – 'Legacy' embedded image of Dr. Sadia Boonstra