Ontologi Dedes: Where the Duality of Woman Dance in Unison
Teks: Annisa Nadya
Photo: Larissa Atmawati
On the 2nd of March 2019, Fat Velvet, the Bandung-based female collective presented a delicate, yet sharp performance art work entitled “Ontologi Dedes”. The work, performed by Sasqia Ardelianca (Putih) dan Karina Sokowati (Hitam) and directed by Ayda Khadiva, depicted the infamous Ken Dedes, the first queen of the Singhasari kingdom in an elaborate and harmonious synchronization between the old and new.
The performance started with the two Dedes character, Hitam dan Putih, kneeling side by side, as they progressed into the narrative of Ken Dedes in two acts. Unlike the mainstream portrayal and depictions of Ken Dedes, a character that would generally considered to be larger-than-life, the performance humanized the infamous historical figure. If in mainstream and academic texts, Ken Dedes was often portrayed to be a woman whose life is constantly in tandem and dependent on the men in her life, the portrayal in Fat Velvet’s performance piece contrasts and challenges that very idea.
The first act depicts Ken Dedes life as she went on to become the first queen of Singhasari. In the scene where she became the wife of Tunggul Ametung, Putih seemed to succumb into the role of the obedient wife, in this scene, the duality of Ken Dedes as a woman seems to be challenged. Hitam seemed to be abandoned by her other half, a reflection of how women would often repress certain parts of themselves to please another, whether it be her father, husband, and even society at large.
What’s exhilarating about the depiction of duality in Ontologi Dedes is this; duality is not in conflict with one another, they complement each other and would dance together in unison, one cannot survive without the other. This synchronization of contrasting aspects of Ken Dedes represents the complexity of a woman, especially a larger than life female historical figure whose depictions and representation in historical texts are often two-dimensional and almost always overshadowed by the male figures in her life. She was once a daughter, then a wife, then a wife of another, and then, a mother. But in Fat Velvet’s portrayal of Ken Dedes, she was portrayed as a woman who’s aware, and yet questions, her role as a woman of that time. A repeated verse would echo the room, perhaps a commentary on how women have always been portrayed and expected to be, and maybe how little of it has changed.
Hanya sebuah lubang berhias
Dan wajah terpoles”
On the second act, the performance followed Dedes journey as she became what she would eventually known to be, Dedes Ardhanareswari, Perempuan Utama. The second act commenced with the appearance of a rectangular structure, upon which a plastic sheet adorning illustrations of flower was strained; in which during one scene, both Hitam and Putih were trapped, and realize their need for one another to synergize and release themselves. The scene appeared to be a depiction of deflowering, but also the symbolism of a woman’s emergence through boundaries and limitations imposed upon her. The structure would then turn into a bed frame, around which both Hitam and Putih would dance and pirouetted about; she has succumbed into the obligations of married life. To be a wife, and to provide an heir for the throne
Yet the second act also focuses on Dedes duality and how it represents her gentle, submissive nature that she would be known for as well as her intelligence and cunningness, as she would soon receive a premonition of the role that she would play in the lineage of great Javanese kingdoms. Not only did Dedes went on to become a good wife to Tunggul Ametung, she used this opportunity to her advantage by learning about the constitutions of the government at the time. As Dedes realize the advantages that she has gained from the synchronization of her duality, she grew to her own strong individual, the strong woman she was meant to be.
Ontologi Dedes challenges the public perception, traditional dances are imbued with the more modern conceptual movements. Fat Velvet’s depiction humanized Dedes, a rather invigorating departure from the more traditional depictions where Dedes and many other female characters are often sexualized. The energy of the two performances reverberated through the small Galeri Indonesia Kaya theater, engaging and emotionally provoking. Like the Marina Abramovic and Ulay’s Breathing Out-Breathing in performance, which mirrors one of the scene in Ontologi Dedes; duality not only coexists nor do they contradict one another in a competing manner, they integrate and harmonize with one another, and they danced, and danced, and danced.