Words by Eddie Dobbins. Photos by Suki Zoe.
The garden below restaurant Indus, overlooking the Tjampuhan River, enjoys a breathtaking view across the Tjampuhan ridge and surrounding hills. This provided a stage for an intimate opportunity to briefly speak to a man whose external connection to where he comes from – and to where he will ultimately return – is measured by dance. An archipelago of art.
Eko Supriyanto, born into a upper middle- class Javanese family, is the leading Indonesian dancer/ choreographer of his generation. From the tender age of six he was encouraged, mentored, and motivated by his grandfather – a well-known medical doctor and puppeteer in his region – to learn martial arts and dance. [The combined effort of balance: martial arts was to protect Eko from the violent world, and dance to soften him, providing internal harmony.]
Eddie Dobbins: What inspires you in life to dance?
Eko Supriyanto: “Place and space.” All my dance pieces comes from that feeling.
Eddie: Can you describe that feeling of “place and space”?
Eko: I remember this land, this yard when we practiced dance and martial arts with my grandfather – I remember a space in the yard, a large yard, very open space. I felt the space allowed me to create and imagine; gave me imagination, while becoming a source of inspiration for me. Dance was a taboo: I was often ashamed growing up. I tried to choose between soccer and basketball. I was too short for basketball and soccer. I later understood dance was my peace.
Eddie: What was the shift for you?
Eko: The shift for me was meeting new people and seeing new cultures. It’s like diving. I was forced to dive by a colleague, like dance, even though I cannot swim. Diving was both beautiful and sad. When diving I feel like I was on stage; an alien performing for the creatures below. It was the “place and space” which moved me to greater imagination.
Eddie: Is there a modern dancer that inspires you?
Eko : Trisha Brown. She died recently. She inspired me. She showed so much compassion and heart. She was respectful, and nurturing during my time with her. [Trisha Brown was known as a dancer who pushed the boundaries of contemporary dance.]
Also, Peter Sellars.* Peter Sellars was warm, charming with positive energy and love for humanity. Peter taught me that choreography comes from the body – the study of the body and its complexities. This is what I try to achieve in my work today: the complexities of the body. Its movement in place and space – this moves me to be a better choreographer.
Eddie: If you weren’t dancing today, what profession would you be in?
Eko: I would be a driver. I love to go to many places and take people there.
Eddie: Is there anything you would like to share with the masses of young people whose passion for dance resembles yours?
Eko: Never be/feel comfortable – you must get out of your comfort zone; must keep moving and making mistakes. Create new challenges and learn from mistakes.
Eddie: I have just one last question. What would be the title of your book?
Eko: ‘The future of dance lies under water.’
* [Peter Sellars, a professor at UCLA, is an American theater director who teaches Art as Social Action and Art as Moral Action, and is noted for his unique contemporary stagings of classical and contemporary operas and plays].
Eko Supriyanto is a leading Indonesian dancer and choreographer with a Masters from UCLA, and the Founder/Artistic Director of Ekosdance Company. He was a guest at this year’s Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. You can learn about his dance company here.