1 May 2023, Mon, 6.15pm & 7.45pm
Esplanade Courtyard Green
This event is over.
This event is over.
Dressed like warriors and riding on bamboo or rattan horses as if going to battle, dancers perform superhuman feats such as eating glass, walking on coals, dehusking coconuts, even tearing live chickens apart with their bare hands and mouths, accompanied by music from a Javanese gamelan ensemble. Moving among the dancers, the pawang (shaman) and his assistants whip the dancers to ‘discipline’ them. But they seemingly feel no pain: in traditional contexts, each dancer goes into a trance—their bodies taken over by a spirit invoked by the pawang in an earlier part of the ritual.
The horses are not merely props for the warriors: painted in black, white, red and yellow (each colour carrying a symbolic meaning in Javanese culture), they are believed to be vessels for the spirits, and must be consecrated in an early part of the ritual.
This is kuda kepang, a spiritual practice that stems from archaic animistic beliefs from Java, Indonesia. It is practiced regularly as part of family celebrations such as weddings, or communally to seek help from the spirits in cleansing the area.
At this year's edition of A Tapestry of Sacred Music, amidst fragrant incense, the practitioners from Kesenian Tedja Timur commences a cultural showcase of this Javanese ceremony with buka gelanggang (silat, a traditional form of martial arts).
This is followed by sentherewe, an enchanting performance of kuda kepang, featuring eight skilled performers who portray warrior-dancers with grace and precision, accompanied by gamelan music. Complemented with the rhythmic and spellbinding beats of the gamelan, this performance is bound to captivate audiences, as it gradually progresses from its understated beginnings to its climatic and profoundly spiritual end.
About kuda kepang
Stemming from archaic animistic beliefs, kuda kepang is practiced regularly in Indonesia as part of family celebrations such as weddings, or communally to seek help from the spirits in cleansing the area. As Java is largely dependent on agriculture for its economy, its inhabitants are at the mercy of the unpredictable forces of nature. Such cleansing ceremonies allow the villages to feel a sense of control amidst the uncertainties in life, expressing their hope for a good harvest and prosperity in the year to come.
Traditionally, each performance consists of several lakons (acts or skits), where the style and pace of music and dance changes; some of these involve female dancers or a form of comedy. Although every district has different lakons, the framework of a performance remains the same: an opening prayer and offering, various dances, and then the dancers are brought into a trance.
The performers are then released from their state of trance from the pawang and his assistants, whose duties of making the spirits leave the dancers’ bodies are crucial. The pawangs have their own methods for soothing the dancers with different objects: holy water, potions, cloths or masks may be used.
The kuda kepang sessions in the festival will be a summarised demonstration of the ceremony which in traditional circumstances takes a few hours. Instead of going into an actual trance, the ensemble will be share this now rarely seen practice as a cultural performance.
No tickets will be issued.
Kesenian Tedja Timur 1948
Established in 1948, Kesenian Tedja Timur keeps the ancient practice of kuda kepang and other Javanese dances alive by performing and educating the public, as well as training youth in the art form. Since 2001, the group has been led by Iswandiarjo bin Wismodiarjo, who was elected President of Kuda Kepang Singapura in 2008 and has served as Vice President of the Javanese Association of Singapore's Performing Arts sector since 2015. Iswandiarjo is a practitioner and critic of Javanese Folk Performing Arts. In Singapore, he participates actively in the scene and holds various positions: Music Director for Qasyidah group Ikhwatul Iman, musician in Orkestra Melayu Singapura, section leader in the Pangrawit Anyar Gamelan Ensemble, and senior instructor and performer in Sri Warisan Gemelan and wayang kulit section.
1 May 2023, Mon
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