Dimensions of Dance with Reference to Song Lyrics: Improvisatory Processes and Practices in Indonesian Malay Mendu Theatre Performance

Karen Sri Kartomi Thomas

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


    In this article, I analyse the creative process of dance in Malay mendu theatre staged in Indonesia’s northern Riau Islands, based on fieldwork I conducted in 1984 and 2013. I describe and compare the four main motifs that made up most of the theatre’s dances (referring specifically to upper body movements, the height of the forearms and hands, the direction of the eye gaze, the number of beats per movement), and deconstruct the five integrated, improvisatory mechanisms of the dance system (repetition, modification, retrogrades, looping, and controlled free-timing) by which actors generated their dances; thereby devising a choreology of Malay theatrical dance. Four performance parameters – motivic sequencing, improvisation, reflexive-cueing, and the dance-lyrics dynamic – were employed to guide and control these mechanisms. This case study aims to show how analysing a creative dance method benefits from an ethnographic research approach.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)253-268
    Number of pages16
    JournalDance Research
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


    • creative dance method
    • generative dance method
    • Indonesian Malay theatre performance
    • mendu theatre
    • improvisatory dance practices
    • system of dance

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