What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘dancer’? Most probably an able-bodied person doing intricately beautiful movements. Indonesian dance company KitaPoleng is doing its best to quell this type of association via its work with disabled dancers. “At the moment, we have 15 deaf dancers,” informed KitaPoleng founder and choreographer, Jasmine Okubo, during the opening of Festival Bebas Batas at the National Gallery of Jakarta.
Although the company was established out of the sheer desire to come up with great dance pieces, Jasmine explained that two-and-a-half years ago she had a chance encounter, which led to giving dance practices for deaf children. “From then on, our focus shifted to training these children and developing the right approach in doing so,” she said.
According to Jasmine, the fact that deaf people need longer time to practice is in line with her philosophy that creating a great dance piece also requires time and patience. “Although I am no specialist in training deaf dancers, as we go on, I have learned a lot from them on how to communicate through arts,” she claimed.
For Festival Bebas Batas, KitaPoleng performed a piece titled ‘Wong Pekan’ or ‘Guardian of Markets’, inspired by 14th century Bali history, during which its people believed that there were a goddess and her troops guarding Balinese markets. “We tried to interpret that story via the dance. We chose to do ‘Wong Pekan’ to showcase one of Indonesia’s great traditions: market. At a market, you could find all kinds of people, food and smell. It’s a quintessential part of the Indonesian culture,” she elaborated.
With this spirit in mind, KitaPoleng’s performance at the festival also featured a single-legged dancer, Arif, who hails from Malang. “I usually do breakdance, not traditional dance. However, I was drawn to this project because I just love dancing,” he said. It only took the group less than a week of rehearsal before their performance. “Rehearsing and performing for Festival Bebas Batas was a new and exciting performance for me. I enjoyed it a great deal.”