Seen and Unseen

Seen and Unseen
Asia Topa. Arts Centre Melbourne and Victorian College of the Arts. Martyn Myer Arena. 20 – 29 February 2020

Drawn from the Balinese philosophy of Sekala Niskala that is translated as ‘the seen and the unseen’, this work is inspired by Director Kamila Andini’s film of the same name.     

Exotic and absorbing, Seen and Unseen is a rich, evocative, intoxicating triumph for the senses. On the face of things it is beautifully fluid and superbly presented dance and music performance of mystical and almost hypnotic nature. 

At its heart is a profoundly deep story of pain and loss.  The loss of a son and brother is exquisitely presented by an astonishingly capable troupe of child and adult Balinese dancers and singers.  I’m guessing that some of the children are as young a 10.  Their vocal and physical skills are exemplary.  Their cultural dancing is superb and the voiced sounds they make, most particularly of animals, are remarkably realistic.  Percussive sounds incorporating the use of the floor and the body - add a raw edginess. The singing in Balinese is sublime. 

The ‘over-the-top’ design by Eugyeene Teh complements and enhances the work but to an extent contradicts the integral theme by embellishing it.

Upstage right is a kind of forest or ancient tree that could be made of human hair.  With the introduction of eggs that are scattered everywhere, the stage becomes very messy.  This feels like it is in conflict with the innate frugality of the Balinese.

The costumes are designed by Hagai Pakan.  Although the older female performers wear traditional dress, the young dancers are attired in garments that remind us of underwear. In skin-toned hues these layers of cloth suffuse and imbue vulnerability.

Then there is the use of something of a sound track attributed to Yasuhiro Morinaga.  This is most obvious in the last part of the performance.  Here it feels like an unnecessary coating – an orate frame that in taking attention slightly detracts from what it contains. 

However having said this, from a seemingly purist perspective I am happy to acknowledge that the juxtaposition of the staging of this traditionally inspired story, in a black-box with what feels like a flamboyant design sensibility and incongruous music design, in actual fact, opens up and creates space to think about the value and validity of contemporary inter-cultural collaborations.

Watching these extraordinary traditionally inspired entertainers, one is reminded of their intrinsic guilelessness as well as the massive generosity of spirit of both the Balinese as a race and of child performers generally.

This extraordinary resonant work is not to be missed.

Suzanne Sandow


Ida Ayu Wayan Arya Satyani (Dyu Ani) – Choreograper

Kamila Andini – Director

Komunitas Bumi Bajra – Performers

Composer – Yasuhiro Morinaga

Designer – Eugyeene Teh

Lighting Designer – Jenny Hector

Dramaturg – Adena Jacobs

Costume designer - Hagai Pakan

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