Arts |

How Artists Can Adapt to Virtual Performing Arts

Arts | 23 September 2020
Without thunderous applause, audience interaction and praise being conveyed in person, artists continue to adapt and be spurred in presenting their artworks on audiences’ screens, keeping the show going. Photo courtesy of Komunitas Salihara/NOW!JAKARTA

Although contrary to actual performing arts, digital platforms are the choice for artists as a new vehicle for those presentations. The digitalization of art performances via social media, websites and other digital channels is the right strategy to provide a stage for performing artists to showcase their works.

Within Salihara Arts Center or Komunitas Salihara, the uncertain situation due to Covid-19 and the Jakarta PSBB, which is again tightened, a new strategy is implemented regarding art festivals.

It’s biennial signature programme, SIPFest (Salihara International Performing Arts) could not be held this year. Replacing the event is Musim Seni Salihara (Salihara Art Season) which runs from 12 September to 11 October, fully online on YouTube. Musim Seni Salihara presents various performing arts, from dance, theatre, music, lecture performances, discussions, fine arts to literary reading a number renown artists, such as Melati Suryodarmo, Putri Ayudya, Muhammad Khan, Ahmad Krisgatha, Yudi Ahmad Tahjudin and many more.

For the past five months, Komunitas Salihara has routinely conducted digital programs through its social media platforms. Komunitas Salihara’s Programme Director Nirwan Dewanto said Musim Seni Salihara is a continuation of those events and the art center is really starting a digital production and presenting it digitally.

“We create digital art festivals but not performing arts recordings. As we know, performing arts must be presented directly and there are emotions that occur in the performance space.” said Nirwan.

Nirwan also explained that at this time we can't come to the performing arts venue yet, but Salihara continues to animate and move the arts world amidst the pandemic. Even though the artworks are presented completely digitally, it becomes over the vehicle, which relies completely on the nature of video art and is aware of it as digital art. But for Salihara and the artists, this is a form of 'adapt and play', arts creatives and productions that are responsive to a prolonged pandemic situation. Digital is currently the main expression medium.

The artists who appear in the art season festival admitted that adaptation is not an easy task. But there are many things they have learned that become valuable experiences and work for them.

For dancer and choreographer Ayu Permata Sari, virtual performing art is a new thing and she needs much time to learn it. She only thought that all art disciplines could be synergized and collaborated so that she carefully brought out the advantages of virtual art. In dancing, of course, she can show the details of body movements of the performers so that the emphasis is even sharper, something that is not obtained when watching conventional dance performances where there is considerable distance between the stage and the audience.

This pandemic has indeed forced us to learn a lot. A choreographer Riyo Tulus Pernando felt this way, who couldn't help but learn about videography. It is he who clearly admits that so far he has not enjoyed video presentations which are always taken from different angles because he always opens with just one focus to make dance videos. But with this pandemic, he learned a lot with fellow videographers and even collaborated with television people to present Hiruk Pikuk, a dance work that tells the story of a physical interpretation of human helplessness even as they attempt to build or maintain a harmonious life alongside nature.

Gema Swaratyagita who performs fairy tale-based musical works Jeng Sri in the festival also experienced difficulty in adaptation where she needed to transform a three-dimensional room to only virtual concept. However, she maximizes these limitations instead of being an obstacle to creativity.

“I minimized my expectations when I imagined that in the stage space we could explore, imagining there were opening lights at various angles or electronically there was a quadraphonic, but that's not possible in virtual performing arts. On the other hand, in terms of ideas, when form becomes material and the work becomes adaptations, I think that finally my mindset must be changed, otherwise I will continue to complain. And our flexibility as creators must keep the work visible," Gema said.

While theater players Putri Ayudya and Muhammad Khan who are appointed for literary readings of works by Sapardi Djoko Damono and Subagio Sastrowardoyo, two important figures of modern Indonesian literature agreed that the literary works that are read can clearly be heard by the audience in their words well. For them, “being friends” with the camera is something different for them because it is not how to limit the editing and characterization even though it is a dramatic work, but it puts forward the literary work itself. This is where, according to Putri Ayudya, artists should not only master their fields but also need to study interdisciplinarity.

"Technical constraints in virtual format really affect how the sound quality can then be heard by the audience. Personally, as a performer, when performing virtual art, I always ask myself, will I get the same experience when I perform on stage? There are two choices, whether we have different experiences or are at all close to what is shown on the stage. Likewise I think for the audience, is it when the audience watches my work, do we want to give a similar experience on stage or want to be completely different? So I played with my imagination to get the atmosphere of the stage. The difficulty in presenting a virtual format is that we have to choose frames and angles to represent the wishes of the audience. But when they appear live on stage, the audience is directed to a certain point of view. That's what is missing from the freedom of the audience in seeing their point of view," explained Muhammad Khan.

There are three types of performances in the Musim Seni Salihara Festival. The first is based on performing arts, such as reading literary works and the duration is not more than 20 minutes. Second, the type of discussion that lasts 1.5 hours and the third is a video show that is quite short but very dense and does not matter if you watch it repeatedly. Nirwan Dewanto said that the duration was based on statistical data from several digital shows held by Salihara.

"Of course there are risks in watching shows on a digital screen, such as watching Netflix, people can watch according to taste and switch shows because there is such an opportunity. Every show at this festival is online for two weeks during the festival," Nirwan Dewanto concluded.