After asking for directions and phoning around, we eventually find the choreographer’s house in Yogjakarta. Her name is Fitri Setyaningih; she wears her hair shaved close and lives with her five dogs in a small, idyllic house with a garden. After a week of relentless noise and sleepless jetlag nights the silence is overwhelming. It is a relief to be able to spend half a day with Fitri.
As we talked Fitri confirmed the impression I had gained while studying her works on DVD – this was an artist who had broken radically with traditional dance to work with forms of visual art. This decision had given her more freedom and liberated her from the constraints of unspoken aesthetic controls. Her curiosity and passion for dialogue are boundless, and we talk for hours on end.
Fitri is one of the few choreographers I have encountered who can explore her artistic vision and background through the lens of the visual arts. The need to acquire the methods which enable artists to deal with the challenges of "today" is evident among many younger choreographers and dancers.
Tradition always holds the same fundamental answers to the same fundamental questions. On the other hand, more modern forms, lacking any real impetus for dealing with such fundamental matters, are often little more than simplified facsimiles that seem empty and vague.
Even if contemporary dancers/choreographers like Fitri break with tradition stylistically and formally, the spirit of their works and the metaphysical space which they occupy is often so similar to that of traditional works, that in effect they reproduce the intellectual outlook of their traditional predecessors. The break with tradition is achieved when the artist succeeds in reflecting their own unique descriptive language, outlook and discussion in their works.
But perhaps we underestimate the effect that alternative forms, including non-lingual techniques, can achieve. These forms do, in fact, provide a more or less precise “language” – a specific elaboration of form – which makes all the difference.
There are few contemporary choreographers who explore questions of external form, point of view and philosophy with such passion. And even fewer who arrive at new conclusions and aesthetics. (...) I am not referring here to what is commonly termed “conceptual dance”, which emphasises the concept as the content to be communicated by the arts, but about the artist’s ability to develop a concept to work with. (...) Nor am I suggesting that choreographers should pursue a vague, academically and politically correct discourse; instead what is needed is a lively discourse of diversity, where ideas, methods, positions and their articulation serve as a tool for the promotion and support of artistic work. Like Fitri, many artists could acquire this approach to art if offered the opportunity.
I ponder Fitri’s invitation to sleep at the house and relax in its idyllic atmosphere, but eventually decline her well meant offer, fearing that the growing masses of mosquitoes would leave me with precious little chance of sleep.