A bare, black stage stands before us as we sit in silence for Rianto to appear. A figure emerges and the lights dim and then brighten all at once as we are introduced to the central and only character of SoftMachine: Rianto; the fourth installation piece of director Choy Ka Fai’s SoftMachine series. SoftMachine is a multimedia project that explores dance across Asia and the ties between cultural tradition and contemporaneity. Rianto is a dancer from Banyumas, Indonesia, who specialises in the traditional Lengger dance from Banyumas. He challenges ideas of gender by transforming this timeless piece into a one man show, where he moves from one gender to the next.
As Rianto moves gesturally to the Indonesian music, his intricate and embellished costume glistens against it’s minimal backdrop to emphasise his position as being one, both male and female on stage. With every move, the crowd grows mesmerised, as he viscerally glides across the floor with his female mask intact, representing the princess of the story behind the Lengger dance. Likewise, it is said that the Indonesian King and his guards dressed as a female dancing group wearing mask in search of a missing princess. Rianto plays on this cultural context that dates back to 1910.
As his first dance ends, Rianto uncovers his face and also eliminates a piece of clothing at the same time. As we learn more about Rianto’s journey through a captioned video, his next dance begins, and this time he dances as a man, wearing a monstrous-like red male mask based on the cultural tale. An instant dynamism is evoked compared to his first act that is very delicate in nature. From this point on, we are aware that dance as a whole becomes more about the body, how it moves and how it makes us feel. His feminine movements create a sense of poignancy, as he describes the connection between love and pain and his experience with both. Additionally, we learn how dance has progressed over time, eliminating barriers of gender and costume – the very things that encompass traditional dance.
His accompanying video documentary gives us an insight into his personal life, with his wife in their home in Japan. They now both teach traditional dance in Japan and Rianto has also transitioned into contemporary dance. As he undresses and wipes his face clean from makeup, he reappears in simple jeans and a hooded vest, where he transports us to an electrifying scene, moving choreographically and machine-like to the sounds of electronic music. The crowd watches in awe as he shifts from a classic and graceful style to a vigorous technique that maintains precise control, defining modern dance.
The lights black out and swiftly shuffle with subtle hints of spot light as he disappears and reemerges onstage, this time, he is bare. His body tells the story, just like dance should.
SoftMachine: Rianto is directed by Choy Ka Fai, an artist and performance maker who explores the conditioning of the human body to create complex and interconnected pieces of art, design and technology.