Sacred spaces, sacred bodies (Nov 9)

Didik in the Klana mask.

I don’t know how to write about this yet.

It feels almost profane to capture in words.

The dark of the room, the shimmer and glint of Rady’s costume, the basket of fruit and sticks of incense, the sharp-toothed gape of the Hanuman mask – the Hanuman of the 12th century – the steady thrum of the drum. He kneels before the mask, chanting words and prayers we can’t quite hear. We’ve seen Rady drop into his monkey character before, with each quick turn of the neck, his knees sinking closer and closer to the ground but quite never touching it, always hovering above. But this, this is different. We have been invited to witness something; we are witnessing an invitation to something larger and stranger and more powerful and far beyond.

He arches his back, the curve of his spine rounding back on itself, and then lowers the mask over his head.

IMG_1844

And then Rady is gone.

IMG_1846

There is a shivery electricity in the air as Hanuman moves among us, rearing up on his heels and then hurtling past us on the ground.

I can barely breathe. I am crying. I finally understand what Shimizu-san said earlier this week, about his traditional form as a source of power that reverberates from the past and into the present, this incantatory summoning of practitioners and bodies in the now and those who have come before. I can feel the weight of Rady’s performance lineage heavy in the room, riven by war and then fiercely reclaimed. I can see the artist as the shaman of the present-day, the conduit between who we are now and who we have been, the reminder of what we will never understand, that we are bound to forces we know nothing about, that we are at once infinite and infinitesimal.

I wish we weren’t so far away, in these two rows of chairs so stiffly arranged in the dark shadow of the room, I wish we were closer, on the floor around him, being with him, and not just watching him.


Rady/Hanuman invited us deep into the dark of our selves, and Didik gently brings us back up to the light.

IMG_1850

That’s his back towards us, the mask over the back of his head, his back now his chest – everything inverted and elongated the way a wayang kulit puppet might articulate its limbs. He sashays towards us, the sensual thrusts and arcs of his shoulders and hips, his slender, delicate fingers telling us what we need to know; then the music changes and he turns around – and he’s two characters in one, each sharing him the way he reconciles, he embraces both the masculine and the feminine in the borders of his body.

IMG_1858

Then they’re both together, the monkey and the madonna, savouring the pleasure of each other’s company.

And then it ends, and the lights come up, but the room is still aglow with something else, something residual, something that was glad to be here.


IMG_1862
Xiaoyi sitting between Didik and Rady for the Q&A session, and also wearing a mask – but because he isn’t feeling too well.
IMG_1863
Thank you for allowing us to be here.

[*Update: The day after, a Saturday, Rady laid out the Hanuman mask with its prop sword and a basket of fruit with incense sticks in them as part of a small ritual honouring the mask. He usually does this ritual on Thursdays and Saturdays. He showed me and Shimizu-san the insides of the mask – which isn’t his but belongs to his teacher – it’s a papier-mache construction with foam padding inside the cheeks, and occasionally you’ll have to bite down on the mouthpiece to prevent the mask from moving or falling off during a performance, or at least keep your mouth open throughout. Rady pointed to the angular jawline: “He likes to be strong.” Then he shared the bananas with us to eat, because the fruits had been blessed. They were good.]

[**Update: I had a long conversation with Didik the day after about the various masks and roles he’d showcased. The mask he has on in the photograph above is of Dewi Sarak Jodag (also known as Retno Cindogo), the sister of Rahwana (Ravana) from the Ramayana – these are the Javanese spelling variations. He told me he prefers to work on original choreography for lesser-known characters, and Dewi Sarak Jodag is one of them. When he turned to face us, bare-faced, he was performing the Balinese legong dance from Bapang Saba, a specific village. In the image right at the top of this post, he’s performing topeng palimanan in the red klana or “king” mask. He’s spoken before about how, when he performs male roles, his choreography is textured: feminine performing masculine. Didik also showed me pictures of a mask-in-progress he had commissioned from his mask-maker – it’s a tiger, its expressive eyes wide and steely. He told me about how mask-makers also work on the masks based on the spirit and feel of the object, when it decides to emerge from the wood. This could take two weeks or two years.]