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Sen Hea Ha & Dewandaru Dance Theatre (Pictures captured by Sukhma Image Company – Surakarta)

Helly Minarti wrote this for The Jakarta Post :

Posted by Helly on Feb 5, ‘06 11:59 PM for everyone

Since her debut performance in Indonesia back in the late 1990s, choreographer Sen Hea Ha of Korea has frequently visited the country.

''The occasion, in 1997, was a holiday. I was invited by Eko (Supriyanto), my friend at university (UCLA, U.S.),'' she recalled fondly. Sen visited Surakarta, Eko’s hometown, but also made a trip to Toraja and Makassar.

In 1999, she and Eko performed a duet choreographed by Sen at the Indonesian Dance Festival (IDF). Dedicating the piece to the Panchen Lama, the atmosphere of spirituality was very intense in this collaboration between two artists coming from totally different dance cultures.

Sen Hea Ha has studied dance since the age of four, with an emphasis on Korean ritualistic dance forms and ceremonial expressions, while Eko trained in classical Javanese dance. Both pursued a master’s degree in dance studies at UCLA.

Before moving to the U.S. in 1993, Sen graduated from Kyungsung University and had worked with the Baegimsae Dance Company in Korea.

Completing her thesis on Korean American Shamanism for her MFA in choreography and performance at UCLA, she received the award Outstanding Graduate Student (dance) from the National Dance Association.

Dance took her places after that. She studied with Pina Bauschthe, the doyenne of German Tanztheater, in 1997 where she had the opportunity to participate in workshops and taught Korean dance to the company.

After performing for well-known artists like Peter Sellar and a few trips here, she visited Surakarta again about this time last year. With dancers she met on her first visit, such as Rury Avianti and, from the younger generation, Danang Pamungkas, she produced three collaborative pieces in the past year, spending most of her time in Surakarta if she was not touring internationally or at home in Korea.

''I like Surakarta a lot because of its simplicity. People have so little materially, but they find a way to happiness. Moreover, there’s a strong dance community here. I wish many talented young dancers could be supported to live from their art and not be underpaid as they are now,'' she said.

For the three works they did everything they could to make them a reality, with Sen mostly raising the funds for the project by herself.

''It’s challenging. Instead of the usual four-hour rehearsal, she would stretch it to six, and full-on – no playing around,'' said Danang of Sen’s working ethos.

Now, she works continuously with a smallish team of dancers and a local manager, trying to resolve the problem of an almost nonexistent contemporary dance market in Indonesia.

''I mean, politically, a country should have one (flagship) dance company, right? Or, at least a city dance company.’' Sen and her dancer friends in Surakarta have taken a chance in setting up one here, with the full support of Murtidjono, the director of Taman Budaya Surakarta (TBS), the arts center, who provides the space.

Their hope is to attract the government’s attention to build a '‘proper company’' – where artists could regularly train, create and be treated as professionals.

'‘Dancers need to develop, constantly train themselves, and share with other artists from different backgrounds, also from abroad,'' she said, now acting as the first artistic director/main choreographer of what is envisioned as the future dance center catering to both local and international artists.

Sen does not stray far from spiritual themes in her dances, although she is not a practicing Buddhist. It is something unseen, yet it’s there,'' she reasoned. Her striking appearance – a lithe, East-Asian woman with a shaven head – prompted a lot of reactions from ibu-ibu selling food at traditional markets to her artist colleagues.

''Very often, they think I have shaved my head because I want to look like a monk. To me, it’s simply because it feels clean and pure. When I shaved my head, it felt more like I was cleansing myself. And everyone has a different way of doing it.’'

It is also her way as a dancer to see aspects of both genders in herself.

She has developed solo dance pieces to the music of German composer Gy”rgy Ligeti, such as Lux Aeterna, Resurrection or Requiem, from a body of work she created in Indonesia, starting in 1997, up to the latest ones such as Wahyu performed in Uijeongbu Music Festival and Modafe Art Festival in Korea and for Singapore Arts Mart of last year.

She broke away from her usual theme with a much lighter-narrative dance evening last September with Imperfection (a solo), Infinitƒ and Bebrayan performed in Gedung Kesenian Jakarta (GKJ) and at STSI Surakarta. But this week, she returned to her spiritual theme with A Prayer for Refuge at the smallish Teater Utan Kayu.

Once in a while, when she hits hard times, Sen will quip that she wants to quit dancing. '‘I have been saying that for almost a decade now. But of course I never really do it,'' she mused.

*) this article was published in The Jakarta Post, Saturday 4 February 2006. I, however, didn’t write the title in the printed edition (''Champion and Exponent of Contemporary Dance’'). It was of my editor. It was my fault since I didn’t put any at the submission (sometimes I do it, since in most cases, they will change mine anyway). In my opinion, there is no such ‘champion’ in contemporary dance, and the title does not really reflect the contents of my profile on Hea Ha. However, I shall take the blame for not proposing a title to my editor.