Sunday, February 8, 2009

Gamelan, ketoprak, arak-arakan, wayang potehi and teater kontemporer - all in one day!

As I write this in the lobby of the Inna Garuda hotel I am listening to the sounds of the hotel's gamelan - tonight made up of kendang, gender, sletnthem, siter, gambang, bonang, gong and 2 pesindhen - a much richer sound than previous nights.

What a pleasure it is to be in Yogyakarta. Both Sekaten and Imlek have been in full swing the last couple of days- with many other performances going on as well.

Yesterday, there was a major arak-arakan procession down Malioboro - for Chinese New Year. There were the expected barong sai and liong, but also dozens of other groups - ranging from an Islamic ibu-ibu group from Malioboro, a Balinese processional gamelan, a group of drag queens (banci) camping it up with sexy poses, a small gong-chime group representing Nusa Tenggara Barat, a replica of the kraton's military band, a drum band from a telephone company, a group chanting Javanese poetry, tv mascots and on and on. The line of spectators was only one or two deep, and the liong passed so close they almost touched us. I've been teaching about Chinese New Year celebrations in London to RHUL first year students the last years. There are certainly parallels in the way that London and Yogya's Chinese communities use New Year to display and affirm their commitment to multiculturalism. But the Yogya event had a joy and vitality I haven't witnessed in London. Hannah was thrilled by the event.

In the evening, I went (by myself) for the first time to Teater Garasi - an experimental theatre located amidst rice fields on the road out of town to Parangkritis. The piece was solo performance art titled 'Tubuh Sepatu Kulit' (Body Leather Shoe) by Tony Broer, earlier associated with the Bandung avant garde theatre group Teater Payung Hitam and now studying in Yogya. This was a close encounter with the butoh type - an anti-war piece that involved the performer (dressed in bandages, wearing a kebaya, with white body makeup and long beard and white hair) removing shoes of audience members against projected film and images of war. The image of a rippling American flag was projected - and the performer saluted it in a kind of seig heil as the flag slowly faded out and an image of the Israeli flag faded in.

In a brief after-show discussion Broer confirmed the piece was about Gaza. If you felt uncomfortable about losing your shoes, imagine how much worse the pain of the Palestinians is.

The piece was naive politically, strong theatrically and uncomfortable to watch for me - but clearly engaging for the spectators.

Interestingly the audience was drawn largely from subscribers to Garasi's facebook site. Some 90 or more spectators said on facebook they would be attending the show - perhaps half of the total number attending.

Afterwards, I caught the end of a Chinese themed ketoprak with Nini Didik Thowok and a charming 90 minute wayang po te hi show - by the group Fu Ho An from Jombang - at the Imlek celebrations right off Malioboro.

And there were many other things going on - ranging from traditional dance at the alun-alun to popular Javanese language theatre sponsored by the radio station 99.4 FM that I didn't even have a chance to get a glimpse of !

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