THE SPIRIT OF THE CIRCLE IN RANDAI PERFORMANCES
DANCE ART OF WEST SUMATRA
PHOTOGRAPHS
BY
EDY UTAMA


The circle in the performing art of randai is an example of the Minangkabau cultural spirit that reflects a sense of belonging, equality and desire to create a communicative connection between the randai performers and the audience. In the Minangkabau randai performance, it is explicit that there is neither rank nor social status differentiation amongst the audience. They intermingle freely and can sit wherever they like to see the performance. The circle used as a standard pattern in the randai performance has created a communicative space, which is interactive and democratic.


Randai as Minangkabau folk theater grows and develops through a dynamic process with other cultural traditions in the Minangkabau community and is influenced by performing art traditions from outside of the region. Based on varied sources, randai originally evolved from a tradition in surau. Surau is an important cultural institution in traditional Minangkabau culture. A surau is a place where Minangkabau boys stay from their teen years until they marry. They are not allowed to sleep in their mother’s house, since that house is only for female members of the family. In this surau Minangkabau boys learn about many aspects of Minangkabau culture, such as martial arts, oral narrative, Quran recital, and other important things in life. From learning martial arts in sasaran (a place specific for silat practice) and oral narrative, which is important in Minangkabau culture that has a strong oral tradition, randai evolved into a performing art form.
The pattern of martial arts practice, oral narrative and Quran recital that use a circular form inspire the formation of the same circular form in the randai performance.


With the introduction of a theatrical performing art called sandiwara to the Minangkabau people in the beginning of the 20th century, randai, which originally consisted of dancing (bagalombang) and singing (bagurindam) with music, became the performing art form as we know it. The richness of the Minangkabau oral tradition has since evolved into tales for the randai performance. The principle of Minangkabau culture which views change as a natural process, as expressed in the ancient proverb: “once the water swells, the bank is altered”, randai has also changed in aspects of movement, story lines, songs, and in other theatrical elements. Notably, the circular pattern has been maintained as an important concept in the performance.


The circle in randai, as in other Minangkabau art forms, can be seen as a manifestation of the cultural desire of the Minangkabau people to extend the spirit of equality and democracy through the interactive performance. The circular pattern is one effective way to express that desire.

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