- Embodied Lives: Reflections On the Influence of Suprapto Suryodarmo and Amerta Movement ed. by Katya Bloom, Margit Galanter, and Sandra Reeve
Suprapto Suryodarmo, or “Prapto” as he is known to his followers, was born in the artists’ quarter of Kemlayan in the court city of Surakarta in 1945 and trained in classical Javanese dance. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he was an important figure in posttraditional Javanese performance, working closely with the beloved Gendon Humardhani, director of Surakarta’s conservatoire Institut Seni Indonesia (the Indonesian Institute of the Arts). Suprapto’s most famous choreographic work was Wayang Budha, an experiment in hybridizing shadow puppet theater (wayang kulit) and free-form dance with a score combining Buddhist chant and gamelan music composed by Rahayu Supanggah, which was staged at national and international arts festivals in the 1970s.
In the early 1980s, while touring Europe with the Sardono Dance Theater, Suprapto entered into dialogue with several German students who then traveled to Java in 1984 to study an eclectic mixture of Javanese dance, tai chi, Javanese mysticism, yoga, and Buddhist meditation that Suprapto had been developing into a form of “movement counseling.” Suprapto’s life since then has been one of constant traveling and intercultural exchange, with thousands of students taking intensive workshops with him in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere, and hundreds traveling to Indonesia to study at the interdisciplinary arts center Padepokan Lemah Putih, which Suprapto established in the cool hills of Karanganyar north of Surakarta. Studying with Suprapto involves listening to the guru explain key concepts in Javanese mysticism; moving [End Page 233] in tandem with him, often in outdoor environments and at sacred and archaeological sites in Indonesia and abroad; undertaking various mindfulness exercises; and occasionally enacting what Suprapto, and his devotees call “crystallizations” or “crystallization performances,” which typically take the form of semi-improvised choreographies, sometimes viewable by an invited public. His workshop practice, which in the past had informal names such as “Prapto work,” has since the 1990s been known as Joged Amerta (Amerta Movement), from the Javanese word for dance and Amerta, the sacred elixir of life of Javanese mythology.
The anthology Embodied Lives assembles reflections on the personal experiences and applications of Amerta Movement by twenty-nine of Suprap-to’s most devoted international followers and one from Indonesia by the Javanese theater artist and shaman Agus Bima Prayitna. Contributors are qualified “dialoguers” of Amerta Movement and conduct international workshops and guide “movement through movement” (p. 73) based upon Suprapto’s approach. Most came to Amerta Movement through work with other movement, spiritual, and healing systems, or studied them in conjunction: Comparisons with Ann Halprin, the Feldenkrais Method, Shiatsu, and Sumarah are rife in the book. The book demonstrates how Suprapto is open to diverse uses for his always evolving methods of body-mind training. As one contributor puts it, “One of the gifts of Amerta Movement is that Prapto offers an idea or a practice and, through use and reflection, we make it our own” (p. 176). We read of derivative psychophysical training systems in Prayitna’s Mantra Gerak ritual art practices, Sally Dean’s Somatic Costume workshops, and Diane Butler’s Dharma Nature Time participatory events, and the application of training to archaeology, filmmaking, dog rearing, a personalized wedding ceremony, healing and therapy, home redecoration, solo performance art, collaborative performances, work in the Royal Courts of Justice, visual art, self-actualization, and personal development.
Suprapto’s work has rarely been the subject of academic scrutiny, with only a few scattered scholarly articles on his practice and a video documenting a workshop in Dartmoor (Suprapto 1999) and a PhD thesis from Lund University (Lavelle 2006). This book thus gives important insights into Amerta Movement as it has developed internationally over the years, and Suprapto as a charismatic guru figure or guide. Lack of a fixed form makes it difficult to define Amerta Movement categorically. The book’s introduction describes it as a “forum” for...