The flavors and flairs of local Indonesian communities were showcased in front of a live television studio audience Friday night.
Through the Live Culture summer series of PhillyCAM, Philadelphia’s public access television station, the South Philly-based Modero & Company, a traditional Indonesian dance ensemble, presented an evening of movement, music, cuisine and conversation broadcast in primetime television.
Founded in 2011, Modero was established as a community dance group in South Philadelphia by Indonesia-born Sinta Penyami Storms, who started dance training as a child in the country’s capital of Jakarta.
“(Modero) creates a space for Indonesian people and for people who love Indonesian culture to get together and learn about the culture and learn the dances from Indonesia that are traditional dances but are also newly created,” said Modero member Katherine Antarikso.
After starting the Indonesian Cultural Club of Delaware in 2008, Storms founded Modero in response to the growing population of Southeast Asian communities in South Philadelphia.
Unlike most immigrant entities that are religious-centric, Modero is not bound by any particular faiths.
“We’re using our platform as dancers and also food to actually bring everyone together,” Storms said. “…People feel like there is no tie to religion, and we tell everybody, ‘Come experience the culture.’ ”
Featuring dancers of all ages, the growing company of 25 members, which has even performed for the World Festival of Families during the Papal Visit in September 2015, aims to not solely celebrate Indonesian culture with the performing arts but through social advocacy as well.
“We perform but we also talk about how we want to provide a safe space for anybody – not just from the Indonesian community but anybody in the city of Philly …We’re community organizers,” Storms said. “We’re community activists. We’re promoting Indonesian culture not just through dance.”
With the company rooted in spreading awareness, the PhillyCAM opportunity aligned well with Modero’s mission.
The hour-long program, which ran from 7 to 8 p.m. on Xfinity and Verizon channels, was comprised of three dance performances, including youth, teen and adult solo numbers, which were weaved together by Indonesian culinary demonstrations and discussions surrounding immigrant rights, particularly in response to ongoing crackdowns from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We also want to make it so it’s helpful for the community,” Storms said. “It’s not just all about fun but here we are – we want to be responsible, too, to our community.”
Garbed in full headdress and costumes, the dances featured traditional choreography from Bali and Java, as Modero aspires to represent a vastly diverse country composed of more than 300 ethnics groups, more than 700 languages and thousands of islands in Southeast Asia.
“We just want to celebrate our large diverse culture,” Antarikso said. “The motto of the Indonesian culture is ‘unity in diversity,’ and you want to promote that here as well.”
While the show aspires to educate audiences in the studio, online and in front of the television, the company hopes its dancers, particularly the young performers, continue to foster an appreciation for their heritage.
“To see the next generation of Indonesians really embracing the country – it’s really heartwarming,” Antarikso said.
The food demonstration is centered around Gado-gado, a traditional Indonesian salad of potatoes, tomatoes, boiled eggs, tofu, bean sprout and cucumber glazed with a peanut dressing.
The easily-prepared recipe, which satisfies most dietary restrictions, requires simple ingredients and directions.
“Sinta told me that we need to spread the voice of our Indonesian community, our culture, so they know Indonesian from another side,” said chef Irza Hagati, who led the food demonstration. “…We need to introduce culture from dance and food. It’s easier for people to recognize. Love comes from the dance and food.”
The entire program boils down to an Indonesian saying “Tak kenal make tak sayang,” which translates to “To know is to love.”
“So, get to know us, because you may fall in love with the community, too, because we’re good people here,” Storms said. “We have great culture that we want to share.”