One of the highlights of this year’s Asian Games, held in Jakarta and Palembang, was the grand opening ceremony. Two vital contributors to this success were expert choreographers Eko Supriyanto and Denny Malik. Working together, they trained professional dancers and high school students to perform a number of traditional dances, and the opening ceremony involved more than 1,600 performers from all over Indonesia – a stunning achievement that impressed sports fans throughout the region.
“Choreographing the Asian Games ceremony was really challenging,” says Eko Pece, as the Kalimantan-born Javanese dancer is known to his many fans. “There were a lot of traditional dances in the programme, so many that each one was given a time limit of only 30 seconds. The process of choosing the dancers alone was hard. There was so much to do. We just hoped we’d get it all done on time.”
Talking about world-class choreography, Eko is no stranger to it. He’s so good that Madonna hired him for her “Drowned World” tour 20 years ago. He got great notices.
“Madonna is lucky. Local audiences have been stunned by Supriyanto’s supple, exacting, mesmerising style…. it was Supriyanto’s night, and he filled it as satisfyingly as a sigh fills a pause after extreme pleasure.” wrote Jennifer Fisher in the LA Times. As the saying goes, no pain, no gain. Eko’s accomplishment is a result of years of training. This trademark is what made Eko’s known as a tough teacher to her students. He tends to be very detailed and precise as no mistakes could escape his eyes.
The art blood runs deep within him, though at the beginning, Eko was reluctant to join forces in the dancing world. His grandfather, Djojoprayitno, was a Wayang Wong Sriwedari dancer in the 1960s. He trained Eko before he enrolled in art school. “I understood better about dancing when I went to ISI Surakarta. I learned more about its principles and about dance as an art.” To performing arts enthusiasts, Eko is for choreography that is focused between past and present, an infusion of traditional and contemporary. So, what exactly is his signature in choreographing? “It is not in the form but more in the attitude. The signature doesn’t lay in how my choreography looks like but in how the artistic process.”
His love for Indonesia’s culture motivates him to contribute more for the country. He proudly brings the taste of Indonesia in each of his works, and this authenticity is what set him apart from the rest of professional dancers. With pieces like Daunt in Soya Soya and the trilogy dance of Jailolo (Cry Jailolo, Balabala and SALT) Eko has made quite a name for himself.
But he still feels the need to expand his knowledge of the complexities of Indonesia’s endless diversity.
“Research, practice and being open minded – these are the three most important factors in being a successful choreographer,” says Eko, who has scheduled a tour next year in Sydney with youth officers from Reiby Juvenile Justice Center. Another upcoming project is “Ibu Ibu Belu: Body of Border”, incorporating dance from Belu Atambua, East Nusa Tenggara, which will go on tour in 2020.
“I like challenges, and the challenge is to keep me out of the comfort zone,” declares the UCLA Arts and Culture graduate. Through the trilogy dance of Jailolo, he manages to stray himself away from the comfort zone that the previous piece, Daunt in Soya Soya, creates. But the true struggle lays in his fear of when the trilogy itself will become another version of Daunt in Soya Soya. “I’m big on self-criticism, and the antidote to this fear is to keep creating, learning and performing.”