One of the most enjoyable aspects of photography in Indonesia is being able to witness an incredible variety of cultural dance, with many different styles very distinct from each other.
I have chosen to represent six dances that I have photographed over the past two years, from six different islands across the archipelago. Each year in Indonesia the festival calendar includes many cultural dance events; some are held for competitions and prizes, but many are held to express ancient cultural beliefs and to show respect for the earth and the ancestors. Photographing these can be very challenging as the dancers perform in a wide variety of locations and at different times of the day, often in tricky lighting conditions. As a photographer, you are seldom in control of the situation. Thus flexibility and creativity are critical.
Kecak Dance, Bali
The Kecak, or fire dance, is always an amazing spectacle, but it’s a challenge to photograph, with a combination of low light, explosions of fire and fast action. I was very happy with this photo, as I was able to catch all of this, and especially the drama of the moment and the look of intensity on the man’s face. The boys in the background are not in focus as this could distract from the main subject, but they still remain visible. For this result, positioning was very important (not too close to the fire!), as well as taking many images with a fast shutter speed.
The Ramayana ballet is a famous Javanese dance often performed in a spectacular setting – in this case in front of the ancient temple of Prambanan, Central Java. When photographing dance performances at night, on-stage lighting is critical. This lighting is all about the dance performance, not photography. However, at Prambanan, the lights are bright and well positioned for photographers. I used relatively low ISO (2000) to achieve a sharp image.
I frequently focus on the eyes of the subject. It is here that you can see the intensity and connection of the dancers, often as they engage with the spirit world. For me, this connection is the real essence of Indonesian dances – when they are performed not as entertainment but on a much deeper level. Hours of training, practice and creativity merge as the dancers pay homage to the gods and their tribal ancestors. What emerges in the shots hopefully captures the expression of the dances and honours this ancient form of art.
With this photograph I have tried to capture the spirit of these young Dayak warriors as they dance during the annual Isen Mulang Festival in Central Kalimantan, where hundreds of proud young Dayak men and women sing and dance for their ancestors. They are adorned in hornbill and caraway feathers and tusks gathered from wild pigs, as well as tattoos and body paint. The low perspective adds to the drama.
This very remote island in the southern Maluku chain of islands is reachable only by boat. The inhabitants of Taliabu had rarely been visited by outsiders, so we were quite a novelty. They decided to perform the ancient Cakalele dance in our honour. However, it was the middle of the day and the light was very harsh and not ideal for photography. As photographers, we have to make the best of the situation and be adaptable.
I wanted to give a sense of place in this photo. Hence, I positioned myself so that I could include our tall schooner in the distance. This scene could have taken place a century ago, and I wanted to represent that in this photo.
These ladies from Flores were chanting and dancing very slowly and in perfect formation at a cultural dance festival that I was fortunate enough to attend. My eye caught the colourful sarongs they were wearing and the looks of dedication on their faces. I took this photograph from a distance to be able to get the maximum depth of field, and I cropped it to ensure the main emphasis is on the colourful sarongs.
This beautiful young Balinese woman was getting ready to perform at a special ceremony in the ancient village of Pejeng, near Ubud. I was attracted to the look of intense concentration on her face as she prepared to dedicate her dance to the gods. Many times the best photos are captured before or after the actual dance, as the performers are focusing on getting ready or are relaxed and receptive to having their photos taken. This is a great time for portraits like this.