Indonesia’s Queen of Dance Makes Her Triumphant Return
When Ditta Miranda Jasjfi was 10 years old, the one thing she was always looking forward to was her ballet class on Thursday afternoons.
One day, during the rainy season, the streets were flooded and it didn’t look like she would be able to reach her ballet school, Sumber Cipta, which at the time was located in Tomang, West Jakarta. But Ditta insisted that her father drive her to class.
When she finally reached the school, it was only to learn that class had been canceled because none of the other students had been able to show up, and little Ditta was furious.
“That’s Ditta, always passionate, always determined,” Indonesia’s grand dame of dance, Farida Oetoyo, said about her one-time student who would later become a professional dancer and work with some of the world’s most renowned choreographers .
Ditta enchanted the audience at the Goethe-Institut in Jakarta on Saturday night as she performed extracts of three choreographies: “Ten Chi” and “Vollmond” (“Full Moon”), both created by the late Pina Bausch, and “TOC” by Farida. The evening, titled “A Dance Journey,” was a performance that had been long in the making, but only was realized now because Ditta’s busy schedule, keeping her traveling around the world, wouldn’t allow it earlier.
Ditta owned the stage during her dynamic performance. Dressed in a beautiful gown, she presented swift and energetic movements, think spiralling torso and wringing arms, as well as calmer and humorous sequences.
Selected as best dancer by European critics in 2004, Ditta has come a long way from her early days as a novice student at Sumber Cipta . Initially, she was not even an obvious choice for Farida.
“To be honest, at the beginning I wasn’t too impressed by Ditta,” Farida said with a laugh. “I looked at her and thought, this girl wants to do ballet? Why?”
But when Farida was preparing her class for a performance, she noticed that this little girl was a special one.
“I can’t even tell you what it was,” Farida said, “All I can say is there was something about her that made her different from the rest.”
So she encouraged Ditta to become a professional dancer. “Ditta has always worked very hard,” Farida said. “And yet, I never heard her complain once during the whole time she was working with me. When I asked her to repeat a movement over and over again, she would just do it. She’s also a very creative person who has always inspired me.”
“What is most remarkable about Ditta is that when she dances, her whole body moves, from her fingertips to her toes,” she added. “That is very rare in a dancer.”
In 1989, Ditta received a scholarship from the Goethe-Institut to study dance in Germany. She auditioned at the renowned Folkwang dance school in Essen, and was accepted. She has been based in Germany ever since.
“It was not an easy decision, because at the time I was still studying Japanese literature,” Ditta said. “There were a lot of people who told me not to go to Germany, simply because they didn’t believe I could do it. But I had already made up my mind. I only knew that I wanted to be a dancer.”
After a stint in Essen, Ditta moved to Bremen, where she joined the Bremer Tanztheater under Susanne Linke , one of the most renowned choreographers of modern German expressionist dance.
“When it comes to dancing a solo, I learned a lot from Susanne Linke,” Ditta said. “She taught me that emotions come before the movements, not the other way around.”
After working with Linke in Bremen, Ditta was recruited by Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal in 2000, where she still works today, as one of 30 dancers from all around the world.
“Pina was very close to the dancers in her troupe, and this feeling of love is still strong within all of us,” Ditta said about the legendary choreographer who passed away in 2009. “That’s why we are all determined to continue her work.”
When Bausch was working on new choreographies, she always involved her dancers in the process.
“She would ask us a certain question, or give us one word, and then each dancer answered with a certain movement,” Ditta said. “Many of the questions were about love and longing.”
Every step of this improvisation process, which would sometimes last for up to several months, was filmed and later watched by Bausch and her troupe, with the choreographer pointing out which movements or even facial expressions she liked the most, and eventually combining them.
“It was like putting together the pieces of a puzzle,” Ditta said.
Emotions also played a big role for the dancers in Bausch’s troupe.
Ditta said that one time, Bausch praised her performance during a rehearsal for “Vollmond,” shortly after the piece had been finished — a rare occurrence since Bausch wasn’t the kind of person who would hand out compliments lightly.
“The next day she asked me to dance the same part again,” Ditta said. “And she said it had been very different from the first time — she could sense that I had felt different, happier than the day before, even though the movements were the same.”
Ditta told her that she was feeling happy because Bausch had praised her performance the previous day — only to hear that Bausch preferred the tired, weary Ditta, because it was more suitable for the dance.
“I think the older Pina became, the more she let her dancers work,” Ditta said with a smile. “Sometimes, I thought, come on, a little help over here? Susanne Linke would always show us some basic steps and let us improvise from there, while Pina Bausch gave us nothing but questions. It was really hard at times.”
In the end, however, it was not only the privilege of having worked with great choreographers that got Ditta to where she is today.
“I think everybody has a chance to make something out of themselves,” she said. “But it is up to us if we want to do something with the opportunities that have been given to us.”
It is a notion Farida agrees with whole-heartedly.
“It all depends on the person,” she said. “Being a dancer is tough — it means to be tired, in pain, stiff, unable to sleep. Either you want to do it, or you don’t.”