Casting the Spotlight on Papuan Culture: NUANSA 2015

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After uncovering the behind-the-scenes work of Nuansa 2015: Flowers of Asmat, how does the script and planning translate onto the stage? Part 2 of The Ridge‘s exclusive preview takes us into the performers’ and artistic team’s preparations from rehearsal studio to the stage.
The Papuan culture, in dance and songs

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Arguably the most prominent features of Indonesian culture, traditional dances and music are unsurprisingly the hallmarks of NUANSA productions. However, traversing unchartered territory comes with its own unique set of challenges.

First, there were logistic issues to overcome. Many Papuan traditional musical instruments such as tifa are not readily available in Singapore, as opposed to the more popular Javanese instruments like the gamelan. To get around these obstacles, the music team had to use a hybridised form of music by incorporating electronically produced music with percussion-like instruments to create the distinctive tribal beat. This combined the best of both worlds: the authentic Papuan music with more modern tunes, to ensure an authentic yet entertaining experience for the audience.

But getting the sound on track wasn’t the only issue – what the music conveyed presented other difficulties. Music Director Markus Aditya said, “While music as we know it conveys emotions, the tribal Papuan music is purely ritualistic and not meant for entertainment.”

Dancer Cynthia Rebecca echoed the same sentiments, explaining that the better exposed Javanese dance tends to be more graceful in comparison. Indeed, throughout the rehearsal, I saw feet-thumping, rapid chanting and trance-like motions – not what one typically expects for dance.

Their challenge was then to strike a balance between conveying raw Papuan culture with the requisite entertainment value of a cultural production. In this aspect, Artistic Director Rianda Jacobs shared how they managed to orchestrate this delicate act: grounding the play in a family-like atmosphere that is key to the collective energy of the dance items.

“When all the dancers move in rhythm with one another, they can synchronise and accumulate their energy, which in turn can be felt by the audience,” Rianda said as she was preparing to train the performers.

The faces of NUANSA: The cast  

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As mentioned in our earlier behind the scenes coverage, many performers hail from past production of NUANSA. So what drew them to return to NUANSA for yet another year?

For Mark Hutagaol, a main cast member for 2014 and dancer for 2015, the prospect of a different performing experience appealed to him as he “did not get to do dance or perform a song last year, so to experience something new, I have chosen to be a dancer this time.”

Indeed, NUANSA has something for everyone, whether on the stage or behind the scenes.

To the main cast, the challenge of honing their acting, dancing and singing is coupled with the need to immerse themselves in the Papuan culture. “Honestly speaking, this year’s theme is a challenge for the performers, as the Asmat people have very unique gestures and customs,” lead actor Kevin Petra Sihombing remarked, as he shared how the main cast members watched documentaries and films on Papua as part of their preparations.

Having experience helps as well. Fellow main cast member Zefanya Angelica, who will be playing Teweraut, pointed out how her previous NUANSA experience was pivotal in helping her to adapt to the demands of being lead actress this year. “I am now more used to the hectic training schedule and to juggle it with academic commitment,” she said.

But the NUANSA family is open to newcomers as well. Natasya Aviana, who is in her first NUANSA involvement as Anggrek, paid tribute to the solidarity among the performers. “NUANSA is different from other performing arts, as they give you the chance to really grow and learn as a character and as a person.”

After all that was said, I quietly left the performers and crew to continue their intense preparation, awed by what I heard and witnessed. I can’t wait for show come October 4, and all the best to NUANSA 2015!

(All photo credits: NUANSA Cultural Productions)