From Starting to Cut the Wood; Concept: Katie Engel in collaboration with the artistic team; Performer: Ari Ersandi; Photo: Faozan Rizal
Asia Pacific Dance Platform of the Hong Kong Arts Festival has come to the 11th edition. This year the platform consisted of two full-length works of different approaches to – as stated in the program - intimate dialogue with an inanimate other. The first work HUANG YI & KUKA is a work featuring the performer’s interaction with an industrial robotic arm. Another work From Starting to Cut the Wood is about the craft of mask-making and revolves around the process of mask-carving. It was a pity that I was not able to watch both works but only the latter. This review will cover only From Starting to Cut the Wood.
The performance began with Ki Pono Wiguno entering the stage with a piece of wood, singing a Javanese song. His walking path cut the stage diagonally like an arrow which was derived from Javanese architecture. I thought Ki was the dancer of the work, but he walked away from the stage, sat with the audience and watched the video projection of small pieces being shaved off a piece of wood.
In the darkness, another performer Ari Ersandi entered the stage, moving along with the sound and light. Meanwhile, the projection was covered with text including philosophical quotations about “work” and a description of mask-carving. At times the metallic sound was spine-chilling while sometimes as gentle as pencil sketching on the wood surface. The light changed with the rhythm and volume of the sound to dazzle the eye and surround the space in darkness. The grounding and minimal movements of Ari Ersandi were progressively transformed into movements with the hand gestures of Javanese dance. The sound, light and movement simulated the process of mask-carving marking a process from the natural to the cultural.
The projected quotes and texts were printed in the house program, and even my description above could almost be found in the choreographer’s note. When every detail and idea is clearly articulated in words, what is the point of putting the performance on stage? What remained unsaid?
From Starting to Cut the Wood; Concept: Katie Engel in collaboration with the artistic team; Mask Carver: Ki Pono Wiguno; Photo: Katia Engel
After the dynamic dance performance, I thought the work was done. Ki Pono Wiguno, the mask carver, then carried a piece of wood and a heavy bag walking from the audience to the center of the stage. No more music and the light was fading. The audience focused on Ki Pono Wiguno who now concentrated on his craft of carving the wood with different tools. Each tool gave a unique carving sound. It was impressive and spiritual to watch Ki Pono Wiguno observing and transforming the piece of wood.
This atmosphere of concentration was interrupted when Ki Pono Wiguno switched the piece of wood with other works that had been prepared beforehand. Some of the audience tittered a bit on this choice of attempting to show the passing of time in the carving of masks. I rather wished that I could watch the entire process of craving a piece of wood into a mask, even though it might take a few hours to witness this authentic transformation. The artists revealed that the entire carving process did not take a couple of hours but two weeks. When I knew that the essence of this work was about the authenticity of the carving craft, I felt it was a pity that the current setting somehow distorted this essence. I felt it was worth considering other suitable ways of presenting the craft or work itself.
Throughout this work about the carving of the mask, during specific performance moments and text projections certain questions sprung to my mind. For example, when I heard the strong metal sound, I knew Ki Pono Wiguno was cutting the part he needed for the mask; when I saw him holding the pencil, I knew he was sketching the details of the mask. I kept asking myself after the performance whether the projected text or even the dance was necessary for appreciating the beauty of mask carving by Ki Pono Wiguno. If the piece was just about Ki Pono Wiguno entering the performance space, singing and then carving the wood for over an hour, would I still have the same aesthetic pleasure in watching the mask carving? I doubted that. But the performance revealed the processes that led to the completion of the mask and made the carving rich and substantial. This subject matter retained the purity and calmness of the carving itself.
M.Phil in Philosophy, specializing in Kant’s philosophy and aesthetics, a freelance writer and art administrator.
From Starting to Cut the Wood
Concept: Katie Engel in collaboration with the artistic team
Performer: Ari Ersandi
Mask Carver: Ki Pono Wiguno
Performance: 12 March 20:00 Black Box Theatre, Kwai Tsing Theatre