Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wayang Wahyu

Attended for the first time a performance of Wayang Wahyu, a Christian wayang form last night. The occasion was a reunion of a Christian Sekolah Dasar (primary school) called Pangudi Luhur in Solo, and the event took place at the school's new building on Jalan Haryono in Solo.

Wayang Wahyu emerged in Solo some 60 years ago as a way to popularize Bible stories among Christian believers in Javanese. The musical accompaniment is standard gamelan (a gamelan pelog was used in last night's performance) but a whole new set of wayang figures was created - with Jesus and others with halos. (A recent article in Asian Theatre Journal provides the essential history.)

Last night's show of Purwaning Dadi (Genesis) was by Blacius Subono, one of my teachers at ISI Solo between 1988 and 1990. It was a three hour performance about Lucifer's revolt against the Almighty and the temptation of Adam. The language and puppet movement was characteristically Solonese - but the theme obviously very different than the normal Mahabharata/Ramayana fare. Subono brought much energy to the show - the transformation of Lucifer from angel to demon was particularly engaging - with some wonderful dancing and beautiful singing. (Pak Bono taught me suluk at ISI.)

The puppets and gamelan and beautifully carved screen frame (with a crucifix in the middle held up by two winged cherubs) was owned by a foundation called Paguyuban Wayang Wahyu and all the musicians (an ensemble of some 30 players and singers) were teachers at Pangudi Luhur or associated schools. They were a strong ensemble for an amateur group - and ably accompanied Bono even through difficult musical transitions.

The group has performed about 5 times over the last couple of years with three different puppeteers (one of them a woman). The next performance is scheduled for Easter in April - and bring an obvious passion for the work.

Members of the Paguyuban see themselves as launching a Wayang Wahyu revival of sorts. Wayang wahyu was performed sporadically during the 1980s (I heard about but didn't attend Christmas and Easter performances at the Sriwedari amusement park in Solo) but declined in the 1990s. The puppets they used initially were made from cardboard, but their current set (perhaps 100 figures? supplemented by a few purwa figures such as buta and setan and macan) is beautifully carved from buffalo hide with lovely colouring.

The event as a whole had a gentle nostalgic feeling to it. The performance took place under a tarub canopy set up in the SD's courtyard with customary plant decorations. Kaki lima (food carts) offered characteristically Solonese foods like srabi. A number of vocal ensembles sang pop and keroncong songs both before the wayang and during the limbukan and goro-goro intervals. (The presence of Limbuk and Cangik etc was explained as being a 'dream' of Adam.)

I found out about this event through Facebook and feel very privileged to have been there. I have been promised a DVD of the show, and also was offered food and even a parting gift. Extraordinary generosity, really.

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