Dance as Spiritual Elevation
We should get down to the archetype, to the very roots of the ancient unity. We should dive into this culture and let it awaken us, change us. Every dance is a type of a prayer, a ritual of giving oneself as a gift, with full awareness that art is something much more and more important than us. This wisdom, once you master it and let it master you, begins to illuminate you and your daily life. You recognize the timeless beauty in your body and movements. You learn to invoke the best that you have inside you. In that moment, dance becomes a philosophy, mythology, fairytale, a new life. The transformation is deep and profound, alchemical

By: Dragana Barjaktarević

If it is more than a choreography of well learned and synchronized dance routines. If it is not only a spun kaleidoscope of exotic costumes. If it has embedded coordinates in a culture, philosophy, mythology, religion. If it represents a journey through worlds, up until that point when you recognize yourself. Beauty in your own body. Beauty outside yourself. If it is in harmony with the principle that when we make ourselves better, we will make the world better as well. If dance is all that, then it is Bali – in the heart, movements and words of Ivana Ašković. She has brought Balinese dance and philosophy to Serbia as an indivisible whole and rounded them up in ”Bidadari” dance school, named after beautiful nymphs that seduce both gods and men.


Ivana Ašković has crossed three continents to find herself in Bali. Having graduated theatre directing at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, she moved to New York and worked almost one year in the famous La MaMa Theatre, and then she enrolled in Masters studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. There, she encountered for the first tome the diverse forms of Asian theatre and, among others, with Balinese dance. It was a brand new world for her, since Asian theatre is studied at all at the theatre schools in Belgrade.
– Experimental attempts of fusing the East and West exist in many art forms. In the field of music, theater and dance, it has led to magnificent achievements. However, that period of exciting fusion of East and West in theatre arts has somehow passed by us, and we knew nothing about it, except from books and an occasional guest production at Bitef Festival. A whole new world opened up to me when I started by graduate studies in Hawaii and had a chance to learn a lot about Asian theatre, about which, unfortunately, people here know almost nothing.
In Hawaii, she completed her doctoral studies in the field of Asian Theatre, focusing on ritual theatre of Bali. She pursued further studies theoretically, by studying Indonesian language, history of Indonesian people, literature, religion, but also practically, through dance and music. Every summer she would go to Bali for a couple of months, and after completed doctoral studies she stayed there for four years.
– Each one of us is only a complex set of different possibilities, and many internal and external factors influence how we will shape ourselves and what we will leave behind as a legacy in this world. In some mature age we learn which of these factors we can actively influence and we start investing our energy into them consciously. I have had a chance to live in three continents, in three completely different social, cultural and historical contexts. Living in a foreign country requires that you adapt yourself to the new surroundings, and each of these surroundings allows or summons something else inside you to come to the surface. I fell in love with Bali and I decided to stay and live there not only because of being mesmerized with its culture, but also because I have quickly realized that there I am the best I could possibly be.


And then she returned to Belgrade, where very little is known about the culture and tradition of Bali and Indonesia, and decided to share with people in Serbia what she had experienced and learned there. In 2004, she opened ”Bidadari” Dance Studio at the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, where our girls can train in the complex and magical dance forms, primarily court and ritual dances of Bali and Java.
– People primarily join our group out of curiosity: unusual movements and expression, exotic costumes, a far-away country hiding many secrets and promises. When someone contacts me with a desire to join the group, my first advice is that they should come to one rehearsal and see what it is that we are doing. The next step is for them to understand whether they are physically able to follow. Some of them give up at this point, because this work requires persistence, dedication and discipline. The beginning is always the most difficult, until they master the basic element, and then they slowly begin to recognize the beauty of those dances in their own body and movements. For those who persist and reach the level when they start performing with the group, nothing is the same any more. I think that Indonesia changes everybody who at least scratches that culture below the surface.
In addition to studying dance, the members of ”Bidadari” dance studio also learn about other aspects of Indonesian culture – its history, customs, art, beliefs and rituals.
– The girls are not only studying the physical aspect of the dance, but an entire cultural and historical context in which those dances were created: each dance has its story, range of emptions, specific expression, and it is necessary that, on some archetypal level, some of that is awakened in the dancers who have grown up and who live in completely different social and cultural milieu. Exactly that archetypal connection is very important, because it makes it possible to bridge the gap between cultures that are so different.


After mastering the basic dance vocabulary and, of course, if they are still interested to pursue this further, the next important step for them is to go to Indonesia, to get immersed into that culture and let it change them. Only then they can say that they have mastered the major forms of these dances. Some of Bidadari members have had an opportunity to spend certain time in Indonesia as fellows of the Indonesian government. Many of them have performed on different occasions in the islands of Bali and Java.
– Art in Bali is still closely tied to religion, and every dance is a kind of a prayer, giving yourself as a gift to gods, through dance and music into which we have invested our entire being, days and years of hard work, love and talent, all the while being aware that art is something much bigger and more important than us. I believe that the girls who spend a few years in our group, and especially those who have a chance to spend some time in Bali or other parts of Indonesia, can grasp this philosophy and transfer it further into their daily lives.
If dance has the power to transform us profoundly and spiritually, so that we become interested, ask questions, don’t miss little things, the beneficial ones, to collect the scattered pieces of mind... Then dance stops being just a dance, and is transformed into philosophy, mythology, fairytale, new life.
– I read about alchemy when I was very young, as a student, and in Bali I had an opportunity to experience it in practice. It is present in all segments of life, but is somehow most obvious in the world of art. While working on a certain material or on ourselves (in case of dance, the artists body is his/her material), we change ourselves, and thus the world around us. Everything we do in our little microcosm, no matter how small and insignificant it seemed, has its reflection and influence in the macrocosm that we are a part of. The Balinese believe that everything in the universe is connected and that we can make this world better if we make ourselves better. Contemporary life no longer holds myths and legends, there are no depths and layers, unanswered questions, there are no more fairytales. Balinese and Javanese dances are rooted in Hindu mythology. To all of us with some artistic sensibility, or at least propensity for spiritual values, that mythology allows us to sense some answers to questions that in the pragmatic contemporary life are not even asked any more, and which are still burning somewhere deep inside us and are searching for answers.


– For the members of the group at the Embassy of Indonesia, the dance classes are free: The members are mostly young women who want to study dance. They join the group when they are in high school or at the university, and leave when their life finally takes them in a different direction: when they get a job, go to study abroad, etc. – Ivana says. – Current members of the group, some of whom have been here for many years and without which ”Bidadari” would not be what it is now are: Ivana Matić, Irina Markić, Sanja Ćopić, Nevena Ugrenović, Ivana Vranešević, Nataša Marković, Milica Đuka, Nataša Turksoy Kovačević, Danica Borogovac, Tijana Pintović, Marija Grulović, Dragana Šujak, Bojana Pavićević, Jelena Vuksanović, Vera Karanović, Katarina Ruvidić, Milana Lukajić.


”Mudra Theatre”
– ”Bidadari” Dance Studio is focused on studying and researching Indonesian dances, whether traditional or contemporary. ”Mudra Theatre” was created out of the need to take a step further and to connect these dances, in a creative manner, with other dances, primarily from Asia and Africa, but also with the contemporary western dance. The dancers with whom I have started ”Mudra Theatre” had, in addition to Indonesian dances, training in contemporary dance, African dances, contemporary Japanese Butoh, different forms of martial arts. The result of this work were several theatre productions, the most successful being the production of ”The Shadows”, which was performed at Bitef Festival in 2006. We were working on those productions mainly with financial support from the Secretariat for Culture of the City of Belgrade, but most of all on the basis of personal enthusiasm and commitment of the participants. In this country it is difficult to find funds for this type of theatre, and in the past few years ”Mudra Theatre” has frozen its activities and is now waiting for some better times – Ivana explains.


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