Iwate, 1-14 August 2015

Kembai is a ritual dance held every August 7 to pray for people who died within a year in northern Japan. One group named Urahama Nembutsu Kembai, already 200 years of hereditary practices in Okirai, Sanriku-cho, Ofunato, Iwate. This ritual dance group is led by Chikara Furumizu (70thn) with members of about 40 dancers and musicians aged between 5 – 70 years. The ritual performances are held a full day in circumference to the funeral homes in the Okirai mountain region close to the Okirai bay.

For one month I was at Kembai Nembutsu studio with Mr. teacher. Furumizu in the residency program of Sanriku International Arts Festival. I use this immersion to research the cultivation to experience the practice of ritual dance and collaboration with local artists to be performed at the Festival. During nyantrik, I stayed at Nembutsu Kembai studio which was completed in May. Mr. Furumizu built a new studio with funding from various agencies and individuals in Japan. The old training ground in Okirai Bay was destroyed by a tsunami that killed 4,673 Iwatees in 2011.

This year the ritual is held on 7 and 14 August to pray 27 spirits. On August 7 rituals were performed for 21 spirits from 07:30 to 19:00. Then the rest, 6 spirits, completed on August 14 from 10:00 to 14:30. I helped dance Kembai in a 27-page funeral home. Moving from one house to another is reached by foot or car between 5-15 minutes. Transportation of 8 private cars convoy trails the bay and mountains. Two pickup cars to carry musical instruments, property, and drink supplies, 6 cars for dancers and musicians. Mileage by car from one place to another between 10 minutes to 20 minutes.

Considering that this dance is not a performance, its implementation does not demand the facility as per the art of performing. For example, there should be no audience and performed anywhere related to the spirit. Dancing without the audience, at first seemed strange because my basic (Java dance) dance is always held in front of the audience. The experience of dancing around in dozens of times a day is also a new experience for me. In Java, dancing around one house to another is identical with ngamen. Kembai “performances” peripheral not in order ngamen, but do the ritual for the spirit. This operation also does not demand money from the family visited. Nevertheless, some people give money in envelopes as a token of appreciation. There are also, families who prepare drinks, fruits, or food directly served to the players after the “stage”.

Kembai ritual dance is a valuable experience of intercourse in living the relationship between the self and the ‘audience’. This experience also reminds me of Mr. Ben Suharto who dances individual rituals, perhaps a longing for the essence of rituals in Javanese dance that has been lost by the time.

Source of Kakai Dance Motion
Kembai consists of 7 songs and dances that use musical instruments bedug, flute, and vocals. The seven dances are distinguished by the properties held by dancers, namely the dance: Nembutsu Odori (Fan and Sword), Ipponsensu (Single Fan), Jyugo (Sword), Takadachi (Sword), Aya (Wooden Wand), Naginata (Tombak), and Nihonsensu ( Dwi Fan). The basic idea of Kembai ritual dance derived from two kinds of purification ritual movements, namely heimai and jidanda wo fumu. Heimai is the hand gesture of casting out evil spirits with Heisoku. Heisoku is a sacred object in the form of fringe-fringes made of white paper in the hanging on a short stick as a symbol of the purification tool. These objects are usually located in the temple of Buddhism and Shintou, is a sacred object held by the priest.

Jidanda wo fumu is a stomp movement to the ground as a symbol of casting out evil spirits. It is believed that evil spirits live on the ground, therefore, by stomping the ground (jidanda wo fumu), evil spirits will be driven away. The two sources of motion, the Heimai motion (with Heisoku properties) and jidanda wo fumu are the essence of dance which is then developed into choreography with various properties and masks. Associated with property changes from Heisoku to other properties such as fans, swords, sticks, and others, Mr. Furumizu said, “I do not understand, when and how Kembai then replace Heisoku with other properties”.

The dance movement is closely related to the sound of a flute that serves as a lead tone, rhythm, and tempo. The rhythm and the tempo of distilled sound followed by singing, drumming, and dance movements. Dancers should focus on the sound of the flute because its dynamics follow the rhythm and tempo of the sound of the flute that is parallel to the song sung. While the drum serves as a pressure giver such as the function of kempul and gong in the Javanese gamelan.

Ritual Dance Behavior Format
August 7 is believed to be the day of the spirits returning to their homes, so the home is opened for anyone who wants to visit and pray for the soul. At this moment, the Kembai group performed the rituals by dancing Kembai dance. They go around the funeral homes without telling the family to visit. On the way to a funeral home, the party begins with an elder who walks the front. Arriving at the destination, he greeted the residents of the house and worked together to prepare the family owned makkou (makkou) powder transferred to the terrace. Incense powder placed on wooden box size: width 10cm, length 20cm, and height 8cm, placed on a small table. Some families complete it by putting pictures of dead people, candles and incense stems (shokou) in green. The family usually has an incense powder placed in the house (butsudan), which is a room for displaying budha statues, candles, incense, photo ghosts, and sometimes offerings of flowers or food. The ‘facilities’ were then moved on the terrace facing out, where the kembai performed.

Meanwhile, dancers and musicians who arrived at the destination, immediately made preparations. The musicians lower the big drum of the pickup car and put it on top of the standard, while some dancers help each other in mask usage. Without any remarks, Kembai begins with the opening song, the dancers marching in two lines pointing the center of the stage yard opposite the makkou venue. Dance “Nembutsu Odori” started the dance with the movement of dance to the center of the ritual behavior, then form a circle floor pattern. Dancers with spirit character (with or without mask) squat circular while dancing Heimai movement. The priest’s character with a black mask is in the center of the circle, then heading for the altar and picking up the powder incense (makkou) provided by the house owner to be “danced”. Pastor’s character while lifting makkou move jidanda wo fumu, dancing in a circle and moving circle in a clockwise direction. He several times stopped facing and approached the character of the spirit. The ghost characters ‘visited’ by the ‘priest’ respond with standing dance, picking up incense, and praying. In this segment there is a connection between the Kembai and the family built through the use of the family’s makkou to be part of the ritual dance, which is then restored back to its original place. All the motion is done in the form of beautiful dance.

Next, the spirit dancers one by one ‘fight’ against the ‘priest’ with the sword but the ‘spirit’ then peaceful after passing the ‘priest’. The next segment of the Sword dance (Jyugo) with three handsome masked, aggressive masked dancers facing the incense place while occasionally shouting. Followed by a group of sword dancers lined up dancing Takadachi. The ritual ends with a cover song. The ritual lasts between 15 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on the available space situation. Some houses with large yard, but there is also a narrow location, for example measuring 2m x 10m which does not allow the form of a circle with 20 dancers so that the floor pattern is changed to parallel facing the incense. There is a house whose yard is used to park a few cars so that it remains about 1.5m x 5m. The family also has no incense. In this situation, only Jyugo dance can be performed with a duration of about 10 minutes.

At the beginning of this experience, while dancing, I often observed the reactions of families watching ritual while sitting on the porch. The reaction was different, there was a family that seemed impressed: calm, peaceful, happy, but also there was a cry, his face covered with a long cloth like a scarf. Maybe they remembered his deceased family.

Ritual Experience in Dance Kembai
On August 7, the day of purification of the spirits. Cut the dense grass with the sickle. Grasping the small grass by hand. Back to the house no rain, but the cheeks really wet
The verse above is one of the lyrics of the song in Kembai dance which shows the relationship between dance and the purification ritual of the spirits. In terms of motion, the hand that wags the property (fan, sword, spear, stick) and feet stomping to the ground are symbols of evil spirits’ activity. In terms of staging that is not dependent on the presence of the audience, Kembai explicitly serves as a ritual dance.

Although the poetry, motion, and staging indicate the value of ritual, but I have difficulty living the ritual experience because my enjoyment is familiar with the dance world as the performing arts. While wearing a costume, I felt the same experience with preparations in other elaborate traditional dances. The Kembai fashion consists of: kimono, chest cover, pants, long cloth belt, shoulder garnish, back ornament, head hair, headband, sleeves, hand ornaments, footwear, socks, belt-backs, And masks. The property used is a fan and a sword. Special pastor characters use bamboo sticks and incense powder. The complexity of clothing in Kembai is almost the same as experience in Javanese dance.
In the presence of the audience, Kembai explicitly serves as a ritual dance.

Apparently it is difficult to distinguish between performing arts and ritual art because almost all artistic elements make no difference. I try to live the atmosphere. My body is searching for ritual values in this dance. Although the aspect of ritual can be understood through the fact that the audience is not required, but my experience always ‘run’ to the performing arts. Kembai dancing experience a number of 21 times on August 7, can not fully comprehend the essence of ritual in this Kembai dance. In that first round, my appreciation was more on the togetherness aspect with Kembai community. I helped carry a musical instrument and was in charge of guarding the drum in the pickup car every time the trip moved.

My activities within a week from August 7, further deepening the choreography, techniques, and rhythms of dance and got a special ‘lecture’ on the philosophy of Kembai dance by Mr. Furumizu. He explained that the number of spirits varies each year. “If the ritual is not completed in a single day on August 7th, then it is continued the next one week, ie, on August 14,” Mr. Furumizu.

When the momentum that was planned for the ‘stage’ ritual continued to arrive, ie on August 14, I was not sure it could be done because the rain had flushed since morning. We started dressing at 10:00, on schedule. I noticed that it was quite a heavy rain that did not allow the dance to be performed considering the dancers of most small children ranging from 5 to 10 years old. Nevertheless, I attended this group activity, namely dressing up, wearing a complete dance costume. 30 minutes later I asked Aki Maeda who served as a translator. “Will this dance be performed in a rainy situation like this?”. He replied: “I do not know, but look, they’re already moving toward the car. We leave Miroto San “. I then responded: “Oh maybe we stand by at the location. Waiting for rain to stop in the car “. Aki responded briefly: “Yes. Maybe so Miroto San “.
The convoy of 8 vehicles runs from the studio to the location for about 30 minutes. Arriving at the location, everyone got out of the car, walked to the funeral home in a pretty heavy rain. No shelter under the umbrella except for a few spectators who deliberately attend this ceremony. We are ready to prepare, drum covered in plastic wrapping ready to ditabuh. In the rain we danced, all wet, not to mention children. I live a very beautiful movement and music. I dance with full appreciation.
In the dance segment “Nembutsu Odori” which is usually in a squatting position, we were told to stand up because some of the yard was flooded. In this section, I dance in a stationary position in a simple and repetitive motion, while the ‘priest’ actor performs a single dance for about 3 minutes. The simplicity and repetition of dance movements in this segment made me feel the coolness of the rain water that wet the body and clothing.

Dancing back in the rain, I feel the communication with space and time in true appreciation. Here there is only “us”, space, and time. I began to tear, to feel the authenticity of the unconditional ritual dance as a practice in life. My tears drift out by the rain water and I still dance to appreciate the beauty of ritual dance. Rain and cold air do not reduce the spirit of this ritual behavior. The rituals went naturally without anyone complaining, including all the kids still dancing with enthusiasm. I began to believe that Kembai is a ritual dance. I believe they have been doing it for 200 years without fear of weather. This experience reminds me of Mr. Ben Suharto who (formerly) danced ritual individually with sincerity.

Dance Kembai and Pak Ben Suharto
The experience of ritual in performing dance Kembai mebuat reflect on the experience of ritual dancing with Pak Ben Suharto in Yogyakarta. Mr. Ben teaches improvised ritual dancing with the principle of “telaku behavior” which literally berate “three steps”. But “telaku” means “the application of three ideas as one unity in the behavior of the body”, namely: willing to respect, willing to open the heart, and waiting patiently. The goal of “telu action” is not to present the forms of dance, but to empty oneself to apply respect, openness, and patience to space, motion, and voice to the ritual base in the form of improvised motion.

As one of his students, I was often invited to discuss dance as a ritual. In 1996, he offered the idea of performing ‘ritual dance’ in historic places to gain positive energy. I respond with enthusiasm and propose to be implemented on a sacred moment of time, for example on Friday night kliwon. Mr. Ben agrees and the idea is conical by determining the space and time, ie at Candi di Boko, petilasan kraton mataram first in Ambarketawang, and Parang Kusumo beach. The dance is performed on Friday night Kliwon and Tuesday Kliwon at 00:00 without the audience.

Mr. Ben prepared the choreography and ritual format. The formation is mandala. Mr. Ben Being in the center as a center surrounded by 4 female dancers with a square floor pattern as in Srimpi dance. Dancers, musicians who numbered about 10 men and women (including me) formed a circle facing inward. Pak Ben created choreography for 4 female dancers, while the others (including Mr. Ben) danced “telu”. The music is very simple with just a pair of kiddy instruments, which are banana-like instruments that have long holes struck with wood wrapped in cloth. All participants wear full Javanese clothes.

Preparation begins in a sitting position. At the time when dancing arrived, Mr. Ben started by lighting incense, followed by prostrate motion, in the crossed position of his forehead placed on the ground. Kemanak starts to sound as in the slow Srimpi dance rhythm. All began to perform rituals for themselves. I closed my eyes, listened to the boy’s voice and appreciated the atmosphere. I apply ‘telu’ behavior: willing to respect, willing to open your heart, and wait patiently. In such an atmosphere, the mind does not print the shape of motion, but rather ensures the ‘telet’ behavioral behavior. The observation of “telaku” and the idea of dancing stimulate the cultivation to move spontaneously without manipulating the shape.

This ritual dance is performed without illumination, but merely the spots of incense light in the middle of the circle. My fervent sense of dancing is confirmed by mystical sounds and mystical incense, and dark atmosphere in the middle of the night. We performed the ritual for about 30 minutes. Afterwards, Mr. Ben invites discussion of the ritual and spiritual experiences of each participant, a personal story. Then the entourage left the room to the car and went home.

The usual audience perspective has the power to criticize the spectacle, does not apply in ritual dance. Ritual dance such as Kembai and Pak Ben Suharto, when viewed from the perspective of performing arts, can lead to misunderstandings. For example Kembai can be considered ngamen, Mr. Ben is considered strange. However, from the perspective of the perpetrator, the ritual dance is not a spectacle. In this context, if anyone wants to watch, he needs to understand the philosophy and perspective that match the ritual dance.

The Value of Javanese Dance Eighted Rituals Dance?
Classical Javanese dance of Yogyakarta is a ritual dance (Soedarsono, 1984), but the reality has now faded towards the entertainment. Changes in the function of dance from ritual to entertainment can have an impact on the loss of the dance spirit itself. I have ever felt dancing in the palace as Nakula in the days of Sultan Hamengku Buwono (HB) IX in the 1980s, can appreciate the ritual value of Javanese dance at that time. In that context, the audience’s understanding becomes narrow, not the number of audiences that are priority, but the Sultan’s ‘presence’ as a ‘power’ figure. Because Sultan HB IX is in Jakarta, as the vice-president of the Republic of Indonesia, often staging ritual dance in the palace without the presence of the Sultan physically, but the photo of Sultan HB IX displayed on the usual chair as the seat of Sultan.

Did Pak Ben who was a dancer Arjuna Yogyakarta Kingdom felt lost the true ritual atmosphere in performing dance, thus created a ritual dance based on ‘telaku’ behavior. Unfortunately, Mr. Ben has been facing Sang Khalik in 1997. Only Mr. Ben can answer this question, but through the experience of appreciating the Kembai ritual dance, I rediscovered the ritual values ​​in dance that I once felt in Yogyakarta classical dance. The value of ritual in classical dance of Yogyakarta is part of Javanese culture, as the ritual value in Kembai dance as part of Japanese culture. Society and government in Japan to preserve the ritual dance Kembai, of course, can not be separated from the effort to maintain the culture. If there is over the classical dance function of the palace from ritual to entertainment, then this can fade the spirit of Javanese culture. Of course this still needs further discussion in various forums both formal, social media, and in angkringan while drinking ginger tea.
Thanks. Iwate, August 18, 2015, Miroto.