Zapin and Tom Ibnur

An Odyssey From Traditional Zapin to ZapiNeoZapin

By Tom Ibnur
Literal translation by Ariffin Abdullah
This article is a brief autobiography of the writer

Introduction to Zapin

Between 1960 and 1970, I was introduced to zapin in an occasion in the home of a Malay family in Padang. The zapin dance is among the popular dance styles other than Serampang Duabelas, Mainang Pulau Kampai, Kuala Deli and others, by local art activists at that time. Its movement is indeed different and energetic, but not as fast as Joged or Rentak Dua. In that decade, I started to know zapin and learn its dance. Not much variety in movement or style, but enough for all kinds of performances.

Choregraphing Zapin

From 1970 to 1980, the popularity of zapin reached to other areas near West Sumatra, among others, Riau, Jambi and Medan, and that has encouraged me to develop it. Problems that I face includes the limitation of knowledge in dance choreography, resulting in a traditional and conservative style. Even then, my choreography was already regarded as innovative because it is no longer shackled by the style, movement and convention of zapin. The traditional zapin convention were still practiced but many has been abandoned. One disruptive element is when zapin dance was accompanied by electric musical instruments.

My zapin choreography was more focused in 1979 when I lectured at Lembaga Pendidikan Kesenian Jakarta. Until early 1980, the desire to choreograph zapin to its new definition is more apparent. Some of my zapin choreography in that era includes Zapin Bunga Rampai, Zapin Anak Ayam, Zapin Besilang and others.

Developing the Foundation of Zapin

From 1980 to 1990, I started to search for the roots of zapin in various regions of the archipelago. Among them includes Northern Sumatra, Riau, Bengkulu, Lampung, Jakarta, Pekalongan, Semarang, Tuban, Grisek, Bondowoso, Situbondo, Jember, Kraksan, Sumenep, Pamekasan, Pontianak, Mempawah, Singkawang and Sambas. Cultural events such as Qur'an recitation at regional and national levels has allowed me to search for its roots. Zapin eventually become the standard fare for the opening and closing ceremonies of the National Qur'an Recitation in places where zapin influences is strong. My involvement can be seen in massal dances, whether as choreographer or artistic consultant, among others :

Zikir (1983), 13th National Qur'an Recitation, Padang, West Sumatra
Jepin (1985), 14th National Qur'an Recitation, Pontianak, West Kalimantan
Bedana (1987), 15th National Qur'an Recitation, Bandar Lampung, Lampung

My dance creations in theatrical stage has traditional zapin influences but has new forms in its presentation. for example, development in techniques, theme, artistic, choreography and presentation. these creations include :

Maulid (1983), Institut Kesenian Jakarta
Cik Awang (1984), Singapore Arts Festival
Khotbah (1986), Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta
Zapin Dana Bedana (1987), Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta
Zapin, Jepin, Zafin (1987), Asian festival of Performing Arts, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam
Shor-Shor (1988), Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta and Pendopo Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia (STSI) Surakarta
Gaung (1988) Gedung Kesenian Jakarta and Singapore Arts Festival

Giving a New World to Zapin

From 1990 to 2000, is an era of zapin awakening. I developed more focus towards various zapin styles to eastern regions such as Ambon, Ternate, Gorontalo, Southern Sulawesi, Sumbawa, Mataram and Nagara in Bali. Also to central and western regions like East Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, Jambi and Southern Sumatra. Several neighbouring countries was also included such as Malaysian regions of Johor Bahru, Ipoh, Melaka, Sarawak, Sabah and Brunei Darussalam and Singapore.

Zapin must be revitalized with new conventions. Revolution towards traditional zapin forms was done with choreography that not only permutates traditional forms but essentially introducing new forms as well. Zapin ultimately must not be confined to narrow interpretations but able to be created in a new dance format that can be appreciated universally.

Several traditional zapin dances was improvised to fit these new conventions. Among them includes :

Zikhrul Hayah (1991), Closing ceremony of Fetival Istiqlal I, Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta
Di Bawah Kubah Langit (1992), Indonesian Dance Festival I, Gedung Kesenian Jakarta
Solidaritas Dan Tragedi Bosnia (1993), Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta, a collaboration with poet Taufik Ismail
Semarak Emas (1995), Opening ceremony Festival Istiqlal II, Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta
Bilal (1995), Festival Istiqlal II, Gedung Kesenian Jakarta and Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta
Mencari Jalan Kebenaran (1995), Closing ceremony Festival Istiqlal II, Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta, a collaboration with Trio Bimbo
Jalan Putih (1997), Closing MTQ Nasional ke 18, Jambi, collaboration with Trio Bimbo
Sikok (1988), Festival Zapin Nusantara, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Rengas Condong (2000), Produced in 2000, debut at Festival Kesenian Melayu Se Dunia, Johor Bahru, Malaysia 2001
Zapin Lambung (2001), Festival Kesenian Melayu Se Dunia, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Besides developing zapin dances, I supported zapin festivals in various regions and states, either as organizer or artistic consultant or festival management such as :

Festival Zapin Nusantara (1988), Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Bintan Zapin Festival (2000), Tg Pinang
Festival Kesenian Melayu Se Dunia (2001) Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Singapore Zapin Festival (2001), Singapore

In each of these events, activists, artistes, writers, critics, organisers and observers congregates and define the crafts as a heritage and its status in Malay arts in the future.


2000 and beyond

Zapineozapin evolved through a time-consuming process from zapin. Zapineozapin is a new terminology, a new concept, improvised and developed from zapin through time.

Dance movements that are conventional has been developed to become more expressive and modern. Techniques have been developed that each movement is not merely an action but an expression. It demands excellence in execution, without compromising its strong points for a lively improvisation.

Its tempo will also be a variation, no longer bounded or fixed. Hopefully more dynamic, and sometimes contrasting between movement and its accompanying music. The music itself will have variation, beginning with minimalism, romantic, firm, ambient and loud, and made up of an eclectic mix of traditional musical instruments and new technology.

Space takes infinite possibility. Limitation or infinity, leaving its foundation and growing, with the hope of individuality and unity. Space will not dictate movement, because movement will fill up space with meaningful forms.

The theme will be universal, without being shackled by conventions, not certainly its religious implications. However, its religious roots, in this case Islam, will be preserved. Symbolism will be integrated to enhance its theme either by abtsract or imagination.

Its choreography will face off with several conventional choreography. It will challenge the mind without compromising its presentation.

Other artistic endeavours such as costumes, make up, theatre, atmosphere and others will be presented with quality props and technology.

My Hope

Concept and program for Zapineozapin has long been thought of. Only now that I have written, as a fodder for new ideas to be developed. There is no guarantee that something new may come out of this, but without thinking for anything new, is death itself.

Bringing the concept of Zapineozapin to stage to be enjoyed requires a lot of effort and assistance from various parties that share my aspiration for a brave new world. Whether by moral or material, and even if it becomes increasingly difficult to grasp.

Today we shall sow, and we will not know when we shall reap,
But what we sow, will be cultivated for the benefit of our next generation

Jambi, 15 October 2002
Tom Ibnur

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Translation reproduced with permission
For unabridged version in Malay, click here