Oranges are not the only fruit: Contact Gonzo and Lengger

Contact Gonzo, Lilian Baylis Theatre, October 2016

Contact Gonzo, Lilian Baylis Theatre, October 2016

The Lowdown

I am just back from shooting an extraordinary performance at Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis Theatre. Pushing the bounds of performance art, dance theatre and theatre (in the performance the performers vehemently deny that what they are doing is dance) Yuya Tsukaharaleading figure in contact Gonzo, a contemporary dance unit based in Osaka, Japan. Contact Gonzo creates encounters that teeter on the edge of violence and tenderness in a brutal performance that uses both live performance and film, and in an attempt to decode the logics of this practice and to explore how someone becomes part of contact Gonzo, Choy Ka Fai takes part himself in the performance.

The second part was more traditional, delicate and definitely dance extracted from a performance by Rianto, a dancer from Banyumas, Indonesia who specialises in the traditional cross-gender erotic dance of Lennger. The blurb says that ‘the performance explores the tension between traditional and contemporary choreographic practices during the global shift from rural to urban lifestyles’.

Lennger is a fairly long traditional dance of a kind of love story in which, the taking off a mask reveals someone so beautiful that one of the protagonists instantly falls in love with them. We only saw the mask part of this performance in the photocall because it apparently takes 4 hours to put the makeup on.

The Background

This is part of a multi media project created by Choy Ka Fai after he undertook an Asian Dance Odyssey in response to Sadler’s Wells first edition Out of Asia in 2011. This project is split into performances and a free exhibition that can be seen between October and December 3rd.

Contact Gonzo, Lilian Baylis Theatre, October 2016

Contact Gonzo, Lilian Baylis Theatre, October 2016

Mini Exclusives

Q: Do you call it a performance or something else?
A: A performance

Q: Doesn’t your wife mind?
A: She didn’t like it at first but we talked and now she also performs”

Q: How did you [contact Gonzo] meet?
A: Originally we were friends of friends, I went along and it worked

Q: Do you choreograph the show?
A: No, it is different every time. We have ideas and Yuya does drawings, but the whole thing is improvisational although we knew that Choy Ka Fai would be the person underneath.

Q: Where are you from?
A: Osaka and Kyoto

Q: What is the strangest audience reaction? Is it different for different countries?
A: Most people respond the same (he mimes, horror seguing to amazement and then to hilarity) but once in Vienna I saw a girl was crying. I still don’t know whether it was horror or laughter.

Q: What other things are fired at you?
A: Nuts are best, we do tomatoes, it depends. Here we had 2kg of oranges.

Rianto, Lilian Baylis Theatre, October 2016

Rianto performing Lennger, Lilian Baylis Theatre, October 2016


This show will change the way you see oranges
They call contact Gonzo ‘the art of pain’. Expect pain, art and humour.
The show contains nudity (I didn’t get to shoot or see it at the photocall).
In traditional Lengger, ‘Mask’ takes on male symbolism and ‘lengger’ female. However, it is believed that the word Lengger comes from lenngeran, which itself is a shortening of the phrase ‘you should remember the creator’.

Does it meet the hype, would I recommend it and would I go again?

Having surpassed my expectations in unexpected ways, I’d say that this weird performance format could do with a little more hype in Europe. Strictly speaking I didn’t go this time, having just attended an hour long photocall comprising the entire first half (the Contact Gonzo) but only a tiny sample of Rianto. But I’d love to see the whole thing through, especially now I know what to expect.