I have fond memories of Rianto dancing on stage, in what was perhaps the most captivating performance I have ever seen in Singapore – Soft Machine (2015). Born in Central Java, Rianto has lived in Japan since 2003 where he founded the classical Javanese dance company, Dewandaru Dance Company. He is most known for is outstanding performances in Soft Machine from Choy Ka Fai in the cross-gender form of lengger as well as his performance in Until the Lions with Akram Khan Company.
We speak on the phone ahead of his visit to Singapore where he will present his own work MEDIUM and perform in the acclaimed Until the Lions. Last time I saw him he was about to embark on a world tour with Ka Fai, he tells me with excitement, ‘every director wants to stage this piece. Soft Machine is more of a journey of my mind, wheres MEDIUM has a focused objective on the body.’
If the focus in Soft Machine was on the mind I am ecstatic to see what the focus on the body will create on stage. Rianto is a well-traveled performer and having danced the same works countless of times he has a clear understanding of audience expectations. In MEDIUM he would like the audience to feel the connection he establishes between body, spirit, and music. I have watched a variety of performances in the past with similar subject matters by other choreographers, but Rianto has a particular way of embodying rhythm and musicality in his performances that bring these elements seamlessly together in beautiful harmony. There is a theatrical component to his performances that allows choreography to blossom in the smallest details: in the blink of an eye he is able to communicate despair whilst the rest of the body conveys concrete feelings of determination, confidence, and purpose. I notice a distinct imprint of respect, tradition, and culture in his dance work while challenging the boundaries of contemporary dance with immense passion, skill and a unique stage presence. To sum up, if Rianto is performing on stage and an accidental cute puppy crosses the floor your gaze would not move for one second. He is a tour-de-force.
I am fascinated by his adventures touring the masterpiece Soft Machine and the opportunity to join Akram Khan Company. I have always wondered what happens behind the scenes at da:ns festival. Are artists watching other people’s performances?
The short answer is yes. Faith Tan (Head, Dance, Theatre at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay) tells me that ‘the beauty of programming a festival over a long-term is being able to cultivate trusted relationships with people that you’ve worked with over the years. It’s important to me that while a significant aspect of the festival is about the shows that the artist perform, it’s also about the connections we can make because a festival is also a gathering of great minds.’
When possible, Faith connects people that she senses will benefit from meeting each other. She adds, ‘People working outside of Asia really don’t get the opportunity to watch artists from Singapore and South East Asia, so in 2015 when Akram’s manager Farooq was here with Torobaka, I convinced him to come and see Rianto’s performance in Soft Machine. Farooq later told me he was so impressed with Rianto that he recommended that Akram consider him for Until The Lions.’
The success story unfolds with Farooq approaching Rianto post performance and inviting him to watch Torobaka, following by a meeting in a cafe where Rianto finds out that he was poached to join the company.‘I have a project for you. I would like you to play Akram’s role in Until the Lions’, Farooq announced. Rianto was quick and enthusiastic with his response, ‘but Akram is so famous. He is so big in the dance world. Farooq, are you joking?’ The answer was a definite no. Followed by I believe in you. Rianto takes a long pause to recover on the other side of the phone, and I can’t stop earing gratitude in his voice as he shares with me the emotional details of breaking the glass ceiling and being catapulted to the world stage.
In 2015 he traveled to Japan on tour, where he finally met Akram Khan for dinner. His first question upon seating was, ‘Akram do you believe in me? You have never seen me dance.’ Akram’s response was simple. ‘I trust Farooq, and I saw the video of Soft Machine.’ At the table, Akram opened a piece of paper with the schedule for the tour of Until the Lions. Rianto was gobsmacked and out of words. ‘This is for you.’ Akram announces. ‘It’s unbelievable.’ Rianto confesses with many pauses in this short sentence un-be-li-vable.
Catch Rianto in Until the Lions 9 & 10 of October and in MEDIUM 16 & 17 of October with da:ns festival at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
This post is sponsored by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.