Sometimes I’m asked what village I grew up in. The answer is a little village of (what is now) 7.4 million people. The idea that I grew up in a ghetto area in one of world’s largest cities seems to shock many people. How can the art that I learned and practice be from that environment and not from one of rice fields, palm trees, and poor but happy villagers?
The deep origins of my technique are not from the ghetto that I grew up in. But, neither is it all from little rice farming villages and the royal courts of Nusantara. Growing up in Bandung I was fortunate to have the opportunity of studying with some of the best Indonesian choreographers. But I didn’t walk through rice fields, past water buffalo and banana groves, to get to class. I walked through dusty and dirty city streets, past street thugs and motorcycle taxis, getting on a bus when I had the money or just walking all the way when I couldn’t. Walking through rice fields sells better than dirty city streets though. People want to be transported and taken out of themselves by art. And so, many will want not just the art to be transcendent, but the artist must be exotic herself.
I’ve been such a disappointment.
Not that I think that exoticizing is in itself wrong, but if the audience only sees or wants exoticism either in the dance or the choreographer, they will miss the opportunity to be engaged authentically. After all, sometimes it isn’t the other, the exotic, the new that brings wonder and transcendence, but the smile on the face of an ordinary person. Only if we are open to feeling it though.