Saturday, February 28, 2009

Malam Seni & Musik Rohani Budya Wacana

Last night (27 February) I watched the annual show of Budya Wacana, a Christian faith school which my daughter is attending while we are living in Yogyakarta. The show, which lasted some 3 hours, took place at the Concert Hall of Taman Budaya Yogyakarta, Yogya's major indoor theatre, with a proscenium stage and a raked auditorium that seats 1000.

The school children and teachers had been working on the show since December. More than 200 performers took to the stage in an elaborate parade of costumes. A camera on a crane recorded the event and projected feed onto three screens above and to the sides of the stage.

There were several choirs singing (mostly) Christian songs. Girl models from TK to SMA strutted their stuff in fanciful costumes made to resemble high fashion. A number of girl groups sang to recorded backup music. There were speeches from students in Indonesian, Javanese, English and Mandarin. A group of violin students played (en masse) numbers from Suzuki Book 1 (Lightly Row, Twinkle etc). There was also a number in which 2 teachers in ethnic costume (Minang and Javanese) sung a pop duet with a group of 6 or 8 dancers dressed in ethnic costumes from all over the archipelago. There was some attempt to incorporate Balinese and Acehnese dance moves into the choreography of this.

Several dance, theatre and film pieces dealt with the earthquake of 2006. For example, in one piece 8 dancers manipulated two large pieces of cloth to sign at the shaking ground, as groups of distraught children roamed the stage. Raw footage showed houses destroyed. Another piece - a monodrama - had a teacher talking to her colleagues about how to reconstruct the primary school after its destruction.

The mayor spoke briefly too. He joked that the head of the foundation must be a big fan of Kentucky Fried Chicken as KFC (actually standing for Knowledge, Faith, Character) is the school's motto. He also said that though the children at Budya Wacana might look different (there is a high concentration of Chinese Indonesians at the school, and also a healthy proportion of mixed raced kids, and expat kids from Korea, China etc), when you take off their multi-coloured clothes, they all have the same beating heart underneath. I found metaphor to be strange, even shocking, but the audience did not react at all.

The highlight for most was probably the appearance of Dirly, winner of the Indonesian Idol contest. Featured on the cover, he sang some songs at the very end of the programme. You could also get your photo taken with Dirly for Rp. 100,000.

The event was nominally a charity benefit for the school -- tickets cost Rp20,000 to more than Rp 200,000 -- but the huge expenses involved in producing the show meant that there was probably little profit.

What it did do was show off the range of talents of Budya Wacana kids (some of the singers and a hip-hop dancer were actually very good, and Hannah was a bit jealous of the keyboard player who is in her class), and also expressed the school ethos to parents and backers. (Chinese-Indonesian schools have been holding events like this for many decades - some of the most important dramatic scripts published in colonial Indonesia are incidental products of this.)

Though a Christian school, there was a studied attempt at ecumenism, with no mention of Jesus or the Holy Spirit etc.

It was in fact a presentation of bland, generic Westernized modern culture - with only hints of ethnic accents in some Chinese dramatic numbers (with projected Indonesian subtitles) and recorded gamelan music to back a Javanese speech. Indeed, the school prides itself on preparing children to face 'the challenges of globalization' by providing a layar (sail, kite) in the form of education (particularly in ICT, English and Mandarin lessons) which will allow students to move far away and see the world from a distance. At what cost, I wonder.

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