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THE RONGGENG DANCER

Indonesia, 1988 (MIFF 1989, Retrospectives)

Director: Alam Surawidjaya

Nyi Ronggeng is probably the most remarkable fiction film ever made about popular culture and folk traditions in Indonesia. It sets its story among the members of a Ronggeng dance troupe, and within a richly melodramatic plot, it reconstructs performances of the Ronggeng dance as they are supposed to have occurred in village squares and carnivals in West Java in the 1930s.

The Ronggeng dance, similar to the Batinese joget, is a subtle, skilful and sensuous dance, performed in public places by both paid and unpaid dancers. In these dances, while the woman's dance provides an erotic spectacle, the woman invites men from the crowd to dance with her, having the power ro dismiss them if their dancing is not satisfactory to her. In the film the form the dance takes is one wherein the male dancers are invited do try to touch the woman's hair. Hence the dance is more than just an erotic spectacle, but a highly structured social ritual, in which the male partner's attitude to the woman, his pride, and his capacity for self control, also become part of the public spectacle. This, in fact, becomes the substance of the drama of the film Nyi Ronggeng.

The melodramatic plot of the film (a rivalry between two sons of local village heads for the hand of a Ronggeng dancer) emphasises the disadvantaged social position of the Ronggeng dancer in West Java in the 1930s, and the film as a whole implies that their social position stems from the fact that these dancers externalise and allegorise unadmitted but actual dimensions of sexuality in the society. However the role played by the central character in the film, Nyi Sari, gives Nyi Ronggeng a feminist outlook unusual in the Indonesian cinema of the 1960s.

Nyi Ronggeng was filmed on location in West Java in 1969, and an original print has only recently become available again for screening as a result of a project to preserve the film, organised jointly by the MFF, Monash University Library, the National Library of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive and the Australian Cultural Centre in Jakarta. Nyi itanggeng was co-scripted by the late Sjuman Djaya, director of two films shown at earlier Melbourne Film Festivals, R.A. Kartini and Atheist. - (DH)

See also: Tjoet Nya' Dhien

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