“We’re from different generations, so I had to be extra patient. But what I admired most was their grit and courage not to give up,” says Denny Malik of today’s young dancers. The choreographer of the 2018 Asian Games opening ceremony spoke to Ajeng G. Anindita.
“Not many know people this about me, but I actually started working as a choreographer in the eighties,” revealed Denny Malik, when he visited our office for his photo shoot. This much admired hoofer, who was born in West Sumatera 56 years ago, won great kudos last year for his direction of the Asian Games opening ceremony held on Saturday, August 18.
Malik and his team succeeded in training thousands of dancers selected from schools all over the country to perform with perfect precision in front of a massive audience – not just in the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium, but on television and smartphone screens everywhere. The show was an out-and-out triumph for all the world to see.
“As a professional choreographer, I started in 1983-84, but before that in 1979, I was actually one of the dancers in Swara Mahardika,” said Malik. Swara Mahardika is a youth organisation founded by Guruh Soekarno Putra in 1977 and known for its performances celebrating Indonesian culture. Over the years, it has been a stepping stone for new entertainers. In 1987, the group changed its name to Yayasan Swara Mahardika, It morphed into Gencar Semarak Perkasa Production in 1989, focusing on show business.
Malik declared that theatre directing and choreography are the disciplines of the performing arts that he has been passionate about for a really long time. “I love directing. I enjoy dreaming up a concept, imagining and creating a show that everyone would love,” he explained.
Has being a choreographer always been his passion? “Just about. Since I was a kid, I loved watching theatre, music and dance performances, and I was always obsessing about creating my own shows,” Malik replied. “I think that was where all my love and passion for making a great performance was coming from.”
The memorable Tari Garis Indonesia at the Asian Games Opening Ceremony that involved approximately 1,600 students from 24 schools all around Indonesia was inspired by Tari Saman from Aceh. Malik recalled the moment it all started: “I was appointed to be one of the art and culture delegates at the 2014 Asian Games Closing Ceremony in Incheon, South Korea. I was there with 60 dancers and I guess it all sort of happened and the next thing you know, I was directing all these kids dancing.” He broke off with a laugh.
Malik went on to describe all the challenges he and his team had to endure during the rehearsal period. “It was exhausting. We were rehearsing for more than six months. The opening ceremony has the most dancers involved. For Tari Garis Indonesia, we rehearsed separately at the beginning. The kids rehearsed at their own schools. It’s almost like a puzzle, really, doing all of this. We broke down the choreography first. Then we mashed it all together during the two months before the big day. For six months, I had to go to all of these schools and work with the dancers. We rehearsed in outdoor places, even on the hottest of days.”
How did Malik cope with the awkward, sullen teenagers under his wing? “It wasn’t easy,” he grinned. “We were from different generations, of course, and I had to be extra patient on dealing with them. But what I admired the most about them was their grit and courage not to give up. They were excited about making it happen because it would bring them pride and joy in performing for Indonesia, with the whole world watching.
“I was so proud of them because not all of them were experienced dancers, and this performance could well have been their first in front of an audience. I have to give props to their teachers too, because they were very dedicated in helping us succeed with this important show.”
Malik pointed out that the show could not have succeeded so well without the support of artists such as Wishnutama, Eko Supriyanto and Addie MS, “and many more who worked really hard to make the show happen. It was really fun and inspiring working with them. We all worked together and we enjoyed all the creative process in putting on the show. It was such an unforgettable experience to work with these talented and dedicated people.”
Malik recalled early days in the performing arts field that were often challenging. “I don’t have a college degree for this, to say the least. I didn’t go to a music or dance academy, I learned everything by doing. And I do think you can do anything you want, as long as you have the passion and will to learn. I am thankful that I got to learn from so many amazing and talented mentors. They were the reason I could be more confident about myself. They helped me through it.
“I think what attracted me the most to music and dance performance is the fact that everything on stage is live. It requires a great deal of effort to produce a solid live show where everyone works altogether in sync and harmony. Everything that you see is live. You can even spot a performer if he or she is making a mistake. So when you sing, you have to really sing – there’s no dubbing. When you dance, your movements and gestures need to be all out and precise. I love the fact that what you are doing on stage is really you and it cannot be camouflaged or CGI-ed. It’s quite raw.”
Malik eventually decided to become a full-time choreographer, launching Denny Malik Entertainment. Besides the Asian Games Opening Ceremony, he notably produced Genta Sriwijaya in 2018. In addition, he has choreographed performances for state visitors. “Being a choreographer and a director is different than performing on stage, of course,” he said. “It has a lot more challenges because we are creating something. We have to make a concept that is original, that you can be accountable for. But at the same time it must attract people to actually want to watch it.”
Does he ever feel as if he has to compromise his own creativity for the sake of entertainment? “I think you can be true to yourself and your ‘signature’ and at the same time appeal to and relate to a lot of people,” Malik said. “It needs a lot of time and effort, for sure. You have to do a lot of research. You have to learn what people like, ask questions – the right questions – see and observe your previous work. Because at the end of the day, when people appreciate what you are creating, it’s a very fulfilling feeling.”
Malik is currently working on a project called International Culture Forum in Yogyakarta that will be attended by President Joko Widodo. Most of the projects he is doing nowadays are involved with the government and are in the nature of cultural exchanges.
Said this admirer of Sardono Waloyo Kusumo and his contemporary dance works: “My dream project is to make my own musical. I have done before called Siti Nurbaya (Kasih Tak Sampai), but I want to create something fresh – a show that’s quite different from other musicals.”
As the interview wrapped up, Malik expressed his hopes and dreams for the continued growth and enrichment of Indonesia’s performing arts scene. “I would just love it if we could have a proper, international-standard opera house. It’s something we still lack in this country,” he lamented. “It would become the performing arts and cultural centre for Indonesia – a place in which to show the rest of the world just how rich and amazing our culture actually is.”