Off Stage

Moving like an animal

Jecko Siompo has choreographed a new work based on his distinctive "animal pop" style.
Jecko Siompo has choreographed a new work based on his distinctive "animal pop" style.PHOTO: ANIMAL POP WORKSHOP PHOTO

Papua-born Jecko Siompo, now oozing hip-hop swagger, grew up on a diet of traditional dance until his move to Jakarta, after high school opened his eyes to contemporary dance.

His signature "animal pop" style is a blend of East and West, a genreblurring exploration of anything from street dance to classic Javanese dance, inspired by animal movements.

"My mother will ask me to demonstrate the new genre of animal pop that I've been developing and she will say, 'It's not dance. It looks like crazy or frustrated people dancing!'" he recounts.

The 40-year-old has choreographed a new work based on his distinctive style as part of a triplebill show this week by T.H.E. Dance Company for the M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival.

The other works are by Spanish choreographer Iratxe Ansa and the company's artistic director Kuik Swee Boon.

How did you get into dance?

I was born in Papua, Indonesia, and tribal dance is a part of my native culture and life. As a child, it was natural to see my parents and tribe members performing our traditional harvest and fertility dances.

The first time I was exposed to popular media was when my friends from the city brought a radio back to Papua. But it was when my parents bought a television when I was 10 years old that I watched dance performances and shows.


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After high school, I moved to Jakarta and that was where I was exposed to all sorts of dances, including breakdance.

For me, life is about choice. I chose to pursue dance as a career, hobby and lifetime passion.

I can survive on passion, even with very little money.

Tell us more about animal pop. How did you come up with it and how has the reaction been?

It's a new genre of dance I've been trying to build. The mission is to break away from one fixed style in a single genre and to mix all sorts of styles, from traditional to contemporary.

The name shows a synthesis of two different elements. Animal is Eastern. It's based on inspiration from ancient times and traditional Indonesian dance styles. Pop is Western - modern styles such as hip-hop, street dance and contemporary dance. These form the basic structure of animal pop.

I have taught animal pop workshops in various places, including Japan, Malaysia, Europe. They're always curious about the style, particularly the younger students and children.

I heard you visited the Singapore Zoo some weeks back to observe the animals. Tell us more about that.

I gave the dancers (from T.H.E. Dance Company) the overall design of the piece and asked them to channel the movements of certain animals, for instance a meerkat or kangaroo. Then I asked if they had seen these animals in the flesh before. That's how it came to "Let's go to the zoo!"

I wanted the dancers to simply observe the animals, soak in the environment and surroundings. They should watch the animals in their natural habitat, but not copy them. That's not what animal pop is about. It's about understanding the spirit and essence of the animal and translating those into movement.

For instance, when you see a bird or an insect, you can see that each creature has its own rhythm. Animals are very high-tech. They are always moving and flowing with their own internal beat. That's the most beautiful and natural kind of dancing.

We call our choreography dancing, but any kind of movement can be dancing. Animal movement is the most natural style. So it boils down to two things: technique and spirit. If the dancer understands the spirit of the animal, you can see it straight away.

What are your pre-show rituals? Do you have any habits or routines to get "into the zone" before you perform, or a lucky item?

For me, it's most important to create a relaxed atmosphere before a show for myself and my team. I'll make jokes that make everyone laugh.

My mother gave me this piece of advice: Don't hold on to a lucky charm or item or you're placing too much faith in one thing. Just have faith in yourself and be kind to everyone. You will be rewarded with the same energy.

What's the harshest criticism you have received and how did you deal with it?

To me, the comments and judgments that critics give are all opinions. Before you criticise anyone, you should ensure that the extent of your knowledge on that topic is sufficient to defend or justify your criticism.

I've been criticised for the most seemingly minor things, such as in Hamburg, Germany, where a critic said some negative things about my costumes being purchased from H&M. If the costumes are affordable and work for the performance, why not use them?

Dance is a personal thing and that's why people get sensitive about it. When you dance, the audience can read your culture, past, present and future in your body.

At the end of the day, I'm glad to receive criticism. It allows me to reflect on why the negative feedback exists.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2015, with the headline 'Moving like an animal '. Print Edition | Subscribe