Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cembengan at PG Madukismo

Yesterday (24 April) I attended parts of the Cembengan ritual celebration at Pabrik Gula Madukismo, a factor that processes sugar and spiritus (a kind of alcohol) located in Bantul, on the outskirts of Yogyakarta, just south of the ring road. The factory is in fact owned by the kraton, but Cembengan is very much a rakyat affair, and a legacy of colonialism.

The ritual is meant to insure a good harvest of sugar cane and the proper functioning of equipment in the processing (gilingan) into refined sugar. A sugar cane bride and groom are symbolically married, a buffalo head is decorated and buried near the factory, various offerings (including flowers and burnt honey) are given and prayers in Javanese and Arabic offered. Various performances also happen before or after the ritual. A machinist I spoke to said the ritual appeases spirits of the land associated with rice plants and disturbed by the transformation of sawah to sugar fields. My colleague Wisma Nugraha Christianto describes this ritual (known by different names in other parts of Java) as a conscious effort of Dutch colonials to insure that Javanese workers invested in their work, treated the machines (which were given lofty Javanese names) with respect and were conscientious and docile labourers.

Madukismo has only been operating since the 1950s but the ritual of cembengan is very much alive. The factory is one of the largest in Java, with over 500 permanent employees (and a larger number of seasonal labourers) producing 40,000 tons of sugar annually.

This year there was a lively pasar malam complete with stands (where I purchased a copy of an Enthus Susmono VCD) and a ferris wheel, various cultural performances (ketoprak, wayang kulit, campursari, band) staged over a period of 4 or 5 days and a festive procession. I attend the start of the procession, which featured a number of floats on agricultural themes, a small jathilan troupe, a colonial army marching platoon with gongs and drums, a host of people in Javanese costumes and so on. One of the participants spoke with pride about how the buffalo head is decorated in HIS village before being transported to the factory. There was a real sense of popular participation.
The wayang performance by Seno Nugroho (Yogya's most popular puppeteer) was a major event. Invited guests sat in rows of folding chairs underneath a canopy. Behind the screen there was a buffet dinner for them. Thousands watched the wayang from a distance and on large projection screens. I was tired and only managed to stay until the end of the Limbukan (which ended after 12 midnight!). In the opening jejer Duryudana spoke with force against the inadequacy of his senior advisors - blaming Astina's problems on their ineptness and holding up Amarta as a model of development. One sensed behind his words Seno's passion for reform and justice. But the audience seemed more interested in the Limbukan. One of the nicest moments was an interaction between Seno and his own daughter - a sinden-in-training who sung one song. They joked about her payment for participation. There was clearly lots of affection there, and also the hint that she was more than just her father's daughter but also an aspiring artist.

Friday, April 24, 2009

'Sum: Cerita dari Rantau' at Teater Garasi

Last night (23 April 2009) I was invited to attend a dress rehearsal for Sum: Cerita dari Rantau (Sum: A Story of a Journey), a 40-minute solo monologue by Teater Garasi actress B. Verry Handayani in collaboration with writers Andri Nur Latif and Joned Suryatmoko. The play concerns Sum, a TKW (Indonesian female worker) from Indramayu who was physically and sexually abused in Saudi Arabia, and also relates the experience of other TKW in Malaysia, Korea, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Supported by a number of LSM (non-governmental agencies), the work toured around Yogyakarta in 2008 and is being remounted for a tour around rural Java, including Indramayu. It is a work of documentary theatre, based on interviews conducted by the actress herself. Photos of TKW (not necessarily ones of the women depicted in the play) adorned the set, as did newspaper clippings on the topic of TKW.

Verry proved to be a very capable mimic, assuming a variety of postures and accents ranging from an elderly relative of Sum (speaking in a mixture of Cirebon Javanese and Indonesian) to a pompous airport official on why TKW need to have their own arrival terminal in Jakarta. This was interspersed with commentary in her own voice, and a few moments of audience interaction. A live guitar provided musical accompaniment.

The LSM connected to the project are concerned that TKW often depart without full knowledge of working conditions and the hazards they face as vulnerable, isolated women. After one of the Yogyakarta performances, a woman told Verry that the performance had moved her to reconsider her decision to be a TKW. After each performance, there will be a chance for the Teater Garasi team to dialogue with spectators and reps from the LSM or local government will assist with questions.

The portrait of Sum was perhaps not as psychologically nuanced as desired, but the work raises important sociological problems. After the rehearsal, one of the Garasi members watching wondered how it would play to a pesantren audience. Would devout Muslims feel affronted by the depiction of Saudi violence? And how might this stage work be channelled into meaningful social action?

Gamelan Buskers

Yogya has a long history of busking musicians - guitar players on Malioboro, siteran on Prawirotaman and the like - which has provoked some comment from ethnomusicologists. Yesterday (23 April 2009) as I was coming back home to Miliran after picking up Hannah, I was surprised by the sounds of a small gamelan on the streets. It was a busking outfit - consisting precisely of two male musicians, a kendang player (who also sung a melody) and a saron player, probably the smallest unit that might legitimely be called a gamelan. I stopped them and asked how much it cost to get them to do a melody so that I might photograph them. The kendang player answered 'seiklase' (whatever you wish to donate) and promptly launched into a piece. Possibly this was their only piece - it was the same song they were playing as they arrived, and the one they played as they left. A different relation existed than with siteran players. There was no suggestion that they would like to sit down as they played, no hint that possibly I might request a song. They showed little enthusiasm for the work (and it was work for them, not personal expression) but they were competent musicians. I shot a 2 minute video of their playing with my digital camera, something perhaps to be used for teaching or lecturing at a later date. Sadly, I didn't get their names.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Makutharama by Surwedi

I spent a long weekend (18-20 April) visiting the fieldsite of Bp. Wisma Nugraha Christianto. Pak Christ, a lecturer in Sastra Nusantara at UGM, is working on his PhD on eastern Javanese ayang kulit with a focus on the arts management of Ki Surwedi (b. 1964), one of the province's most admired puppeteers. We saw Ki Surwedi perform on 18 April at a hajatan in Gresik, and spent most of 19 April and the morning of 20 April in his company.

Ki Surwedi, who owns three sets of puppets (2 in East Javanese and 1 in Solonese style) performs in a mixture of Solonese and Surabaya style. We arrived as the ngremo dance - performed by two rather solidly built women in male costume and pencilled mustaches - was going on. This, according to Surwedi, is a modernized (garapan) version of this dance, choreographed in Malang. The dancers alternated singing poetic verses (parikan) with movement. Normally, according to Pak Christ, they dance on a separate panggung (stage) but as the hajatan took place in a densely inhabitted perumahan (housing complex) there wasn't space for this, and they performed on a small stage extension in back of the gamelan.

Then followed the main performance of the classic lakon Makutharama. Surwedi began with a mantra or kidung, removed Semar and Bagong from behind three kayons, and then launched into an opening jejer.
The lakon was a very condensed version of the standard story - a wahyu was announced as falling in the mountains of Astina, various parties vie for it, Arjuna wins the divine favour, which turns out to be in the form of sage advice. There was a brief Limbukan (an innovation introduced from Solo in the 1990s) and a longer goro-goro (also a Solonese import), both with a campur sari band mixed with gamelan. (Suwendi explained that while the dancers, gamelan players and sinden are regular members of his crew, he hires in campursari as he is convinced this is a passing fad and doesn't want to take permanent responsibility for the musicians.) I found some of the Solonese material to be uninteresting - but really enjoyed the lively music accompanying battle scenes and the banter of the punakawan in the quickly moving scenes after the goro-goro. Movement was interesting too - with more emphasis on dance than in Yogya or Solo.
A highly intimate atmosphere prevailed throughout the performance. Rather than rows of seats, there were rows of tables where people sat (and came and went) throughout the night. Food was offered (a whole cow's worth of meat was purchased for the hajatan), the host offered many kind words while at the same time being respectful of our desire to watch the show.
Pak Christ has been investigating how Ki Surwedi maintains a network of followers and supporters and a reasonable price (about 5 million rupiah - exclusive of camursari and soundspeakers) for his shows. One of the ways he does this is maintaining excellent social relations among fans - encouraging arisan to hire him; meeting with fans in 'perkebunan' (gardens) before shows rather than arriving just in time to perform or hanging out in hosts' houses; drinking together with fans and friends; opening his house/sanggar to all to play gamelan etc.
Surwedi understands wayang to be under attack by Islamic modernism and is convinced that as long as kepercayaan (belief in supernatural forces) is strong, wayang will exist. I found him outspoken, intelligent (he started two S1 programmes but didn't complete either) and resourceful - very much in tune with his 'market' and able to react to new interests and demands.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Anoman Duta

Last night (11 April) I attended the monthly wayang kulit performance at Sasono Hinggil, a large hall in the southern alun-alun. These all night performances (lasting til 4am), sponsored by a variety of agencies, are broadcast live on RIR Yogyakarta. Admission is ticketed (8000 rupiah for first class seats and 6000 for second).

This year Sasono Hinggil is hosting a Ramayana series, with different dalang performing every month.

Last night Ki Hadi Sutikno presented Anoman Duta (Anoman, the Envoy). The alun-alun is very lively on Saturday nights, with lots of young people on motorcycles eating and drinking at warung. But Tikno does not have a huge reputation and the hall was perhaps half-full

While the puppets and keprakan were Yogya style, many of Tikno's sulukan and other aspects were Solonese. The wayang was very classical - following a traditional structure (Limbuk and Cangik even stood in front of the gapura as Rama went inside) and using customary language. Puppet movement was controlled and precise rather than strong or flashy. Tanceban were particularly elegant - and there was a nice use of shaking to bring life to arm and body movements.

Hadi Sutikno won the prize as best Yogya dalang at the wayang festival in December 2008, and while there was little in the way of excitement or passion (even Rahwana systematically asked his siblings and courtiers one by one to support his interest in Sinta), the storyline was clear and there were some nice dramatic touches. (I liked particularly the binding of Anoman by Indrajit.)

Also present at last night's show were Ki Enthus Susmono (plus entourage), Ki Seno Nugroho, Toro (Tikno's son) and his family. A number of Yogya dalang were keen to talk with Enthus, and a free-wheeling discussion was held for the whole of the goro-goro section in an adjacent hall/warung.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Topeng Monyet

Itinerant troupes of the monkey show or topeng monyet, also known locally as ledhek kethek, continue to roam the streets of Yogyakarta. I hired a company of one trainer plus monkey today as an entertainment for my daughter, and a chance to compare the show today with the shows I regularly sponsored between 1988 and 2002.

The acts were much the same as before - carrying various props, putting on a reog mask - but the showman, a young man named Pariyana, did not utter any of the customary narration, and instead sung a wordless melody as he pounded on his drum.

The tricks were much simpler too - no acrobatics from the monkey - but there was much more physical contact between the monkey and me (as the adult) - a wink from the showman indicated that this was part of the show, and that there was no physical danger involved. (The last time my daughter watched the show the pattern was similar - with a different sponsoring adult being targeted.)

The fee - 6000 rupiah - was similar to the past - but the audience (three young girls watching outside our fence plus my daughter and me) much smaller.

Quo vadis topeng monyet?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ramayana Ballet

My visiting professor friend provided me the excuse and motivation to make the trip out to Prambanan to see the Ramayana Ballet on Tuesday night (7 April 2009). I last saw this sendratari more about 20 years ago (if memory serves)- the ballet itself, a national project initiated by President Sukarno, has been running since 1961. We saw the so-called full version, all episodes condensed into a single 2 hour dance drama. (It is also performed over 3 or 4 nights.)

Dancing remains at a reasonably high level. Costumes are fresh. Blocking is clean. The temple backdrop remains stunning. And particularly the garepan for gamelan is lovely - dramatically exciting, precise, and supportive of the story.

Most of the audience the night we attended seeemed to be school kids from Jakarta on a study tour. They arrived in buses and left a huge mess outside the theatre (remnants of nasi kotak) . They received a long talk in Indonesian before the show about the Ramayana, and were generally well-behaved for the duration of the performance.

Some of the highlights for me included Marica (a lovely Cakil dancer - energetic and humorous), the golden deer (great choreography, imaginative costume, lithe execution), the burning of Alengka (the close of Act I - we could feel the heat as the straw structures erected at the back of the stage caught fire), the dismemberment of Kumbakarna. The arrow shooting (not always perfectly accurate) felt a bit gimmicky to me - I would have preferred something more symbolic. My daughter Hannah felt a bit let down about Jatayu - the dancer was bird-like but I think more work could be done on this to give the bird's flight majesty and grandeur. Rahwana was bit overweight (almost as big as Kumbakarna) but was energetic, proud, vain - a really convincing despot. Rama, Sinta and Laksmana were all a bit empty as characters, and Hanoman received very little time on stage. It is nice to see local children performing as monkeys but their antics could have been more humorous and varied.

All in all a very entertaining spectacle that presents the tale in a succinct but not watered-down form. My daughter Hannah, who knows the Ramayana well after assisting me in a 12 hour version I performed at the British Library last spring, said she'd now like to read the epic. And I think other children present might also be inspired to learn more.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


A professor friend from London is visiting and, after some hinting that he was in search of some night-time recreation, I took him out to a Yogyakarta club last night. We first tried to go to Hugo's, an expat hangout, only to find it closed - perhaps we arrived too early (9.30 pm). We then went over to Jalan Magelang, Yogya's nightlife centre, and at the recommendation of the cabbie went to Bosche. At first, when he pronounced this, I heard 'Pussy', causing some titters and embarassment.

Boshce as it turned out is a very loud, very East Asian type of club. Waiters and waitresses are dressed in primary school like attire with their hair died red and spiked. On the ground floor there are private rooms for 'parties'. There is also a karaoke bar and a 'cafe'. We waited in a lounge/bar area until the latter opened and then were marched upstairs to a very loud and spacious bar area. A band played on a stage - with video projections in the background. Some of the songs were in English, some in Indonesian, but it was sometimes hard to distinguish, due to the distortion of the soundsystem. Men sat at barstools and tables. Male and female singers alternated songs. The latter were dressed in somewhat sexy costumes, and later socialized with the guests and waiters. A single barmaid introduced herself to my friend and me, and then walked away. We drank our beers (at Rp 35,000 each). After the band finished their set, waiters took to the runway stage in front of the band instruments and danced to flashing lights and projections and music with a throbbing bass line that shook me to the bones. After an hour we called it a night, and went somewhere quieter for hot drinks and snacks.

Who goes to these clubs? Why?

Monday, April 6, 2009


Soeprapto Soedjono, the rector of ISI Yogyakarta, gave a solo exhibit of his photographs at Jogja Gallery on 21 March - 5 April 2009. I attended a moderated discussion with the photographer and colleagues at the Gallery.

Prapto's pictures - blown up in full colour to huge scale - show people sleeping in public spaces. Airports. Beaches. Town squares. Subways. Buses. Park benches. The project occupied Prapto for some 5 years. Everywhere he went (Japan, all over Indonesia, Europe, US etc) he took pictures.

One of the people at the discussion reported the delight he took - miming a sort of evil chuckle - when he encountered a subject. Another spoke about how he was glad Prapto did not have the opportunity to photograph him. A third said that the exhibit lacked a photograph of Prapto himself sleeping - and when Prapto said there was an image, the participant said that this did not count as it was not 'objective' as it was taken by Prapto's son.

I found the pictures to be ethically troublesome. They depict people in a moment of weakness, prone to being exploited. Clearly permission to take the photographs (implicit or explicit) was impossible. (Prapto pointed out that he only took their picture - others might have taken their purses.) Prapto claimed there was no 'misi' behind the photographs but I wondered how the images would be received by a Yogya audience. Would they read these as proof of human universals that all people are prone to faults (falling asleep at the 'wrong' moment), as one religious-minded participant claimed? Or would they find other meanings? I would question, for example, the relation between Prapto's position as rector and the sort of power he exerts over his sleeping subjects.

This came through even more clearly in the exhibition's opening (which I did not attend, but was described at the discussion) in which Prapto paid a model to pretend to sleep on a bed in the gallery. She asked not only for payment but told him that she didn't have a nice 'baju tidur' which Prapto took as a sign that she was requesting him to buy a negligee. He bought the negligee, she wore it and visitors to the opening took lots of pictures of her.

I see - and others chimed in - the problems with this exhibition. Intentional or otherwise. Yet at the same time I recognise the ambition of his project -and am thankful to have attended a free discussion and received free refreshments and a free copy of the catalogue. Does this make me complicit?

undisclosed territory #3

I was at Lemah Putih [White Earth], Suprapto centre in Solo, for the second day of an international performance art festival curated by Pak Prapto's daughter Melati Suryodarmo, a German-based performance artist.
Lemah Putih is located on the hilly outskirts north of Solo. Once fairly isolated it is now surrounded by small shops and near a housing complex where the puppeteer Slamet Gundhono lives. Prapto's 3 hectare complex has a variety of traditional buildings (pendopo), a shrine to Maria, a mandala, various megalithic-like stone structures, terraces, hills, shaky foot bridges and gardens. The festival took place all over the compound, responding to its unusual features. While the weather was uncooperative (it rained heavily between about 4 and 5pm) and the turnout was not huge, the work was consistently interesting, if not always cogent.
In '(At) Tension,' Jason Lim unrolled a roll of tape around the pillars of a pendopo and leaned against the tape, playing with the sounds and tension of the material.
Su-En, a Scandanavian butoh dancer, dressed in a tight-fitting red dress, cut open tropical fruits on the grass and lay down in the middle of them in her piece 'Fruitful.' She then squeezed out the juice on to her own body. An audience member commented loudly 'bagus.... bodinya.'
After the rain stopped, Willem Willhelmus performed 'Nail.' He gathered a small crowd around him on the grass and handed out small nail clippers. We trimmed our nails together in silence. Then he dropped some nails into the ground. He hammered them in so that they formed the outline of his body. He then dropped the hammer into a puddle. I asked him afterwards if he wanted his nail clipper back and he said it was mine to keep - for which I thanked him.
After a break, the evening performances started. Suprapto created a happening that went on for about 2 hours (though I only saw about 30 minutes of this). He was buried in soil and rice stalks were planted on top of him. While this was going on, a young man dressed in a loincloth danced atop a pedestal with a rod on top of his head. A beautiful young woman in traditional Javanese costumes slowly descended the stairs, dancing with a lamp in her hand. Artists drew rough images of a face in red and planted the canvases in the grass. A slompret played on and off. Three men pounded a gong into shape. A large sheet glass was placed on top of the mound that is Suprapto. It shattered - perhaps unintentionally. Water from a plastic bag suspended high above the mound dripped on the glass. Suprapto emerged from the mound and moved slowly and dramatically. He then soaked himself in a vat of water. And the piece went on.... (Earlier in the day Suprapto had spoken about various sorts of tapa or harsh devotions, including tapa pendem, and it is likely the work had something to do with this.)
Juliana Yasin, a part-Chinese part-Malay Muslim performance artist from Singapore, perforemd 'Centre of Emptiness' in the mandala. She walked around the mandala slowly with a candle in hand. Candles were handed out to audience members who planted them around the mandala.
Rakini Devi performed two short pieces dressed in neo-kali makeup and costume. Calcutta Underground 1, at the gua maria, involved the grimmaces of kathakali and slow dancing. Calcutta Underground 2, at the pendopo besar, involved dancing in shadow and faster dancing ala bharatanatyam. I sensed this was ironic - but it was hard to say why. Perhaps kitsch is a more accurate descriptor.
Yogya-based Mella Jaarsma performed 'Follow Me.' She sewed a small container out of a miniature red and white flag, emptied her wallet of its contents and put a photo inside the container. She then had us walk to the garden with her where she moved the container on her finger next to a man waiving a flag. A bamboo pole was next to them, weighted down with various flags. Clearly this had something to do with the upcoming elections.
Melati Suryodarmo and Boris Nieslony concluded the formal programme in a joint piece titled '(?) tiada akhir (?)'. Boris grimmaced and crumpled paper and shouted in an autistic fashion. Melati in contrast, dressed in a bright red skirt with a traditonal biskop jacket of the sort worn by priyayi men, sat on a chair and slowly and carefully created ornaments out of glossy white ribbon which adorned her costume. I read this as a postcolonial critique of the traditional Javanese aristocracy - busy with creating their own honours, inattentive to the world outside.
Then followed an 'open session' in which various audience members/artists joined in the tableau. It was late and we left.

Wayang Wahyu recording at RRI Solo

Spent a couple of hours at RRI Solo on Sat morning (4 April) observing a recording session of a wayang wahyu, a form of Christian wayang. The dalang this time was Siti Amini Subanto, and again the music was directed by Blacius Subono (who also played kendang) and the other musicians were all school employees.

The story was Yusup Dadi Wong Pinunjul - the biblical story of Joseph - and while no puppets were used for the recording it was a joy to observe. The puppeteer (one of the very few woman puppeteers around) was brilliant in bringing the different characters to life- an aged and easily fooled Jacob, a well-mannered Joseph, Joseph's cruel and petty brothers, a slave trader desparate to make a deal etc. While she had some trouble with suluk (not helped by Bono's very difficult musical arrangements) her humour and charm and conviction made for wonderful storytelling.

The play will air on Radio RRI Solo on Saturday night 11 April (the night before Easter).

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wayang Kancil at LIP

Papermoon Puppet Theatre, a Yogyakarta-based puppet theatre run by energetic puppeteer-children's book author Ria, held its third 'birthday' party at LIP (Lembaga Indonesia-Perancis) last night (2/4/09). Ria over the last months has become close to Ledjar Subroto and his grandson Nanang and engaged them to perform wayang kancil - as a sort of preparation for their upcoming tour of Europe.

Nanang gave a 25 minute show with Mexican puppeteer Carla Pedroza (who has also worked with Papermoon) - a rendering of a Kancil Mencuri Ketimun in which Kancil is accompanied by a Mexican horse and steal the timun and other vegetables of Pak Tani. The horse insists on singing after eating and is beaten by Pak Tani - proving his stupidty. Most of the show was in Indonesian, but Nanang (who played both Kancil and Pak Tani) also used Javanese particularly for comments addressed at the audience that made fun of the Mexican horse. A laptop played synthesized gamelan accompaniment and Nanang provided the kendang sounds by mouth.

Ledjar then took the stage for a 40 minute show. Beginning with a tembang (from Serat Kancil) which he interspersed with comments and translation (hewan = binatang etc) he gave a rendering of another classic Kancil tale in which a water buffalo helps a crocodile across a river and in the middle the crocodile tries to eat the samaritan. Kancil comes and saves the day by trickery. The brief narrative allowed Ledjar a chance to talk about Kancil (formerly used for moral instruction, it now is important for teaching about lingkungan), allude to the audience (including wayang I have ordered from him), meditate on Javanese culture (children don't know wayang now, which is why it is important to do Kancil), comment on the conditions of performance (no food and drink allowed in the LIP auditorium, but God how I need a beer right now) and his own location in the world (Ledjar performs more often abroad than he does in Indonesia).

Both Nanang and Ledjar did not use a screen - which allowed the beautiful colours of the dekor (trees, plants, grass, the river) to shine and also (according to Ledjar) allowed a direct relation and communication with the children in the audience (who mostly sat on the floor in front).

The gracious audience laughed at even the smallest of jokes and Ledjar was treated as a celebrity - with lots of people taking his picture before and after the show.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In the news, again

Seems my talks are starting to attract some media attention - not everyone knows I am an academic in addition to being a dalang!

DIDOKUMENTASIKAN MATTHEW COHEN; Minim Literatur tentang ‘Dewi Dja’

31/03/2009 09:24:28 PADA awal abad ke-20 Indonesia boleh bangga karena mempunyai seniman yang mampu mendunia bernama ‘Dewi Dja’ dan bersama dengan kesenian tonilnya ‘Dardanella’ sempat melanglang dunia. Dewi Dja telah berkeliling Asia dan dunia yang pada akhirnya memutuskan untuk menetap di Amerika. Tapi hanya sedikit buku yang mengupas tentang kehidupan Miss Dja ini.

Demikian disampaikan Matthew Cohen PhD, staf pengajar di University of London dalam diskusi kesenian Bali-Jawa di Amerika ‘Dewi Dja Goes to Hollywood’ Sabtu (28/3). Lantaran minimnya literatur tentang Dewi Dja ini, maka Matthew Cohen tertarik untuk mendokumentasikan kembali kehidupan guru, performer dan artis film ini bersama kelompoknya di Amerika Serikat dalam sebuah buku yang sedang disusunnya bertajuk ‘Performing Java and Bali on International Stages: Routes from the Indies, 1905-1952’.

Dalam buku ini nantinya juga dikupas ‘Stella Bloch: Javanese Dancer in Jazz-Age New York. Eva Gauthier: From Java to Jazz, Mata Hari, Richard Teschner, Jodjana dan† Rabindranath Tagore. Penelitian telah dilakukan dengan cara studi literatur, interview dengan banyak teman dan sahabat dan penelusuran dokumen yang ada di Indonesia, Amerika dan Belanda untuk dapat menghasilkan tulisan yang akurat.

Diskusi berseri ini masih akan berlangsung sampai dengan bulan Juni 2009. “Acara diskusi ‘Devi Dja Goes to Hollywood’ terselenggara atas kerja sama antara American Corner Perpustakaan UGM, Program S-2 dan S-3 Seni Pertunjukan UGM,” ujar GR Lono Lastoro Simatupang, staf pengajar FIB UGM.

This, that and the other thing

I have been remiss in keeping up with the blog over the last three weeks. First there was my two week trip to Cirebon, when I had only irregular access to the internet and intense days with much travelling. Since coming back to Yogya on 24 March I have been involved in a huge variety of activities. I'll try to summarize, though inevitably there will be omissions.

There were four main reasons behind my trip to Cirebon. One was to prepare a grant application on wayang golek cepak - to be submitted later this month. The second was social - it had been 5 years since my last visit and I found myself missing old friends and colleagues. The third was practical - I hoped to perform some wayang awan (matinee wayang shows). The fourth was that I hoped to see some shows and catch up on the progress of Cirebonese performing arts (a book on the arts of Cirebon is still something I am thinking about). I managed to accomplish all four goals in the end.

I met with a variety of people about the grant - puppeteers, cultural experts, EOs (event organisers - a new category of cultural worker here in Indonesia that has rapidly taken centre stage), potential co-sponsors etc - and eventually secured two letters of support and a number of verbal promises. The grant looks to be on firm ground now, though you never know with UK funders.

I saw quite a number of my closest friends in Cirebon and Indramayu. Among the people I met with were: glass painter Opan, batik artist Katura, shadow puppeteer Purjadi, carver and all-round artist Sujana [Gegesik Kidul], shadow puppeteer Udaya, shadow puppeteer Bahani, glass painter Bahendi, shadow puppeteer Mansyur, shadow puppeteer Herman Basari, shadow puppeteer and dancer Wangi Indriya, shadow puppeteer Taham, tarling artist Kang Ato [Sunarto MA], tarling artist Kang Fendi, shadow puppeteer H Rusdi, shadow puppeteer Sudarso, topeng manager Edi Rasinah, all-round arts expert Elang Tomi, musician Jaja, shadow puppeteer Nono Suryono, music teacher Waryo, rod puppeteer Akmadi, rod puppeteer Sukata, pesinden H Iwi, pesinden H Samii, drummer Warsadi, drummer Jaya. I also visited the house of sandiwara actor Wartaka and learned that he passed away 3 or 4 years ago. A sad shock. I went to the house of shadow puppeteer Grami in Gunungsari and learned he was sick, and I was unable to meet him sadly. I spent quite a bit of time with some new colleagues - an EO named Arief, a school teacher named Anna Schatz and her drummer husband [who plays sometimes with Samba Sunda], It was a great joy seeing all these people for the most part - and catching up on local gossip. My friends and colleagues in Cirebon have a special place in my heart, and I was delighted to learn that Herman named his third child Tri Hannah Sita (after my own daughter) and that Kraton Kacirebonan will be bestowing a title on me shortly.

I managed to perform 2 wayang awan shows of Mapag Sri in Kab Indramayu. I had forgotten to bring a copy of this lakon with me and Nono (the dalang bengi) quickly narrated the play to me before the first show. Both shows flowed pretty well - though suluk were a problem and I sometimes struggled to recall wayang formulae.

I find much has changed in the last years in Cirebon. Number of performances is about half of what it was in the 1990s. Some artists such as Kang Fendi are in sad shape. Others have found other avenues of income. Herman is a practicing dukun. Tejda (who I didn't meet) is running for office as a caleg. Sujana [Gegesik] is thriving from giving condensed topeng shows and working with sanggar, the government and in education. Bahani suffered a stroke or such and is no longer able to perform wayang - instead he is teaching gamlean in a school in Cirebon. Purjadi wrote a book on wayang (based in large part on materials we collected together in 1994-5) and is working on developing wayang organ. Opan has taken a leading role in cultural management in the various kraton - and invited me to speak at STAIN and also instigated the idea of getting me a royal title.

Since returning to Yoyga on 24 March I have attended a lecture by St Sunardi on French postmodernism in Indonesia at LIP (surprisingly well attended), been to a performance by Enthus Susmono in Gamping (remarkable - needs further comments), delivered a lecture on Devi Dja at UGM (written up in KR, unfortunately with some major technical problems), went to an evening of student and professional shows at ISI (a monthly event, very lovely atmosphere - though quality uneven), attended a showing of 4 solo dance pieces by emerging Javanese choreographer/dancers at Padepokan Seni (again a lovely atmosphere, though the work was just so-so) and went to a fantastic event - a biweekly performance lab in a little pendopo in Limasan in which a solo actor named Ari improvised a Javanese language dialogue about a suicidal ketoprak actor who accidentally kills his son. The performance had some problems -but the post-performance dialogue was intense and open and sensitive. On 1 April I attended another wayang golek performance by Sukarno at the kraton, and found (again) that I had a hard time following because of the very poor accoustics.

I have also been helping out to establish a UNIMA Indonesia - again something for another blog entry.