Kuda Lumping mesmerises

Rewview by Paul Campobasso

4 1/2 stars

The art of dance can be a fairly diverse art though rarely have Melbournians been treated to anything quite as exotic as Kuda Lumping, a traditional Javanese ritualistic dance showing at The Arts Centre Melbourne, as part of Supersense – A Festival of The Ecstatic (August 7th-9th ).

Attending the festival’s opening night, the evening begins navigating the twisting hallways beneath The Arts Centre before finally arriving on stage at The State Theatre, where my attention is quickly drawn towards the ritualistic headsets and assortment of mostly percussion instruments placed in front of me.

After a few minutes, members of the Padepokan Gunung Ukir troupe, all dressed in traditional attire and barefoot, silently enter the performance space and take their place on stage. Some begin to play away at the instruments producing an entrancing, tribal-like melody that I find hauntingly hypnotic and almost ominous.

This is occasionally enhanced by the native vocals of a single female singer. Though I have no idea what she’s singing about, her voice is undeniably beautiful and adds to the emotion of the music.

I’ve heard it frequently stated that participants of Kuda Lumping enter “a frenzied state of possession”. I find this to be an accurate description once the dancing begins. Groups of performers dance around the stage in various costumes and on bamboo horses, cracking whips and even chomping on razor blades and what looked like fluorescent tubes and coconuts while also eating, dancing and rolling around in piles of glass.

Sometimes there can be too many things happening at once and with hundreds of spectators on stage watching the performance up close, I found that it was sometimes easy to miss certain elements. Otherwise though the entire performance was addictive and fascinating. A truly unique experience that we should all hope makes a return to Australia soon!

Padepokan Gunung Ukir’s Kuda Lumping played at the Art Centre, Melbourne from August 7th-9th as part of Supersense – A Festival of The Ecstatic.