Tuesday, June 9, 2009

World Environment Day

I attended a simple commemoration of World Environment Day at Lemah Putih, the retreat and arts centre of Suprapto Suryodharmo on the outskirts of Solo, Central Java on 5 June.

This featured a series of performances -- an improvised anti-smoking dance piece without music by 4 dancers from ISI Solo, a short contemporary wayang beber performance, a community percussion ensemble and a new mask dance piece based on three regional styles by Fajar Satriyadi (Surakarta), Wangi Indriya (Tambi, Indramayu) and Sitras Panjalin (Tutup Ngisor, Magelang). This last piece, which was developed at Lemah Putih in consultation with Suprapto, will be touring the UK in June and July 2009. There were also a few moments for ritual and reflection on the environment. (Wangi Indriya, pictured above, offers a prayer at the mandala that the earth will be healed and people will become conscious of the need to dispose rubbish properly.)

There was an intentionally small, invited audience - no real publicity was undertaken for the event - and a great feeling of intimacy among participants, with a shared meal and time for discussion.

Indonesia Performing Arts Mart

I attended the fifth Indonesia Performing Arts Mart in Solo from 3 to 6 June 2009 as a 'presenter' and was charged with giving some closing remarks on behalf of the group of presenters. Below is the speech I delivered. Pictured above is IPAM presenter Keiko Murakami, director of the Japan Gamelan Music Association of Tokyo, singing with the Hotel Sahid Jaya's lobby gamelan gadhon.

I would like to thank the organisers of IPAM for inviting me to give some closing remarks. We have seen a remarkable range of new work over the last days. More importantly, perhaps, we have had the chance to meet the artists who made this work, and others around them. In the Seminar Global Creative-Industry Opportunities in honor of Indonesia Performing Arts Mart we heard from Marie Pangestu and Professor Sri Hastanto about issues confronting the creative industries today. Presenters have also gone on trips to see the Hindu-Buddhist remains and the living traditional cultures, in order to better contextualise the world of Indonesian performing arts.

We have seen 21 performances, including both fringe shows and showcases, from Java, Sumatra, Maluku and Sulawesi. Speaking to curator Ratna Riantiarno, I learned that there were some 75 groups that applied to this year’s IPAM. The curatorial team did their best to insure that a variety of work would be seen. Curator berusaha supaya representative. Many of these shows have been folklorico – very loose glosses on traditional art forms that have lived in communities for hundreds of years. Courtship dances and sacred rituals have been packaged for mass consumption. Some of these shows are very slick and will appeal, no doubt, to certain international audiences. We have also seen a few examples of lively folk performance that retain authenticity, charm and energy – I think here especially of Calung Kaulan by Calung Banyumasan Mudha Utama. More interesting, to me, have been the many shows we have viewed that draw their techniques and forms from tradition, but have reinterpreted them for the contemporary world. Many of the presenters were greatly impressed, for example, by Rantau Berbisik by Nan Jombang Padang, which brought an entirely new understanding of the traditional plate dance; and the juxtaposition of spinning tops and bedhaya like grace in Eno’s “Samparan: Moving Space” held a unique fascination. The dynamic rhythms funky harmonies of Sonoseni demonstrated that this ensemble is one of Indonesia’s best neo-ethnic groups going. And while the verbal play and physical comedy of Sahita is hard to follow for those not strongly versed in Javanese culture and language, the intimate communication they created with the Teater Kecil ISI audience could be missed by nobody.

One of the points that came through in the seminar and conversations is that creative industries is not about product but about process. One presenter told me that she was looking for shows to bring to her country, but with the hope that she will be later able to engage their creators in long-term bi- and multi-national projects. The shows offered for her in IPAM are thus not the end of a search, but rather an introduction or a calling card to future collaboration.

We can only hope that this presenter’s desires will be thought about in relation to future IPAM. There has been a worrying tendency for the nation of Indonesia to claim exclusive rights to so-called intellectual property, resulting in strife between Malaysia and Indonesia. Speaking as an historian of Indonesian performing arts I can say that the traditions here are not exclusively Indonesian property, but rather instantiations of long-term processes of exchange and influence. Suandi from the Black Arts Alliance, who spoke at the IPAM seminar, put this beautifully when she said ‘your drum is my drum.’ And few of us present will forget the wonderful moment when Keiko Murakami, director of the Japan Gamelan Music Association of Tokyo, sang along with the gamelan gadhon in the Hotel Sahid Jaya lobby. We hope that future IPAM will present opportunities for further exchange and growth in an open, non-competitive spirit of cooperation. Congratulations to IPAM and thank you.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Barikan at Astana Gunung Jati by Suganda

During my last trip to Cirebon (29-31 May) I had the pleasure of seeing a performance of Barikan at Astana Gunung Jati by Dl. Suganda from Gegesik. I was in fact originally scheduled to perform this sacred drama, which I have studied since 1994, myself but for complicated reasons not worth going into in the blog Suganda substituted for me at the last minute and I ended up playing saron II and taking pictures.

While in Gegesik and surrounding hamlets and villages Barikan is performed during the night, in Astana the custom is to perform it during the day with a wayang before and after at night. The ritual drama is proceeded by prayers and distribution of food in the pendopo where the wayang is performed.

Suganda's performance was very solid and followed the same basic story structure and dialogue I have transcribed and translated in my book Demon Abduction (Lontar, 1998). The people of Amarta are threatened by siluman (spirits) who kidnap them and spirit them off to Tunjung Karoban to work as pengobeng (labourers) in a wedding celebration. The mysterious Begawan Jojohan intervenes and recites a kidung (pictured above) and bonds the siluman kings into a promise that they will not disturb Amarta or the people of the sponsoring village (in this case Astana) ever again.

There were a few attempts at updating and making the lakon timely - as when the forces of Tunjung Karoban offer to bribe Arjuna (how many triliyar do you want?) to get the people of Amarta as workers for the siluman's wedding celebration.

After the show, Suganda asked me (why I don't know exactly) whether there was anything that needed to be marked in red (ie wrong) about his performance. I said no, but was curious why he had Begawan Jojohan's petapan (hermitage) as Sekar Gading. He said that this was his father's (Dl Warsinta) version and that other dalang Gegesik had other placenames. There remains a huge awareness of even minor variations among Gegesik puppeteers.

Revitalising Topeng

The topeng troupe of Mulya Bhakti (Tambi, Sliyeg, Indramayu) performed at Astana Gunung Jati on Friday 29 May 2009 before a set of wayang performances by two dalang from Gegesik for the annual Barikan ritual.
The topeng performance, under the direction of Wangi Indriya, differed from 'normal' topeng on two counts. One is that it was part of a suite of performances by Mulya Bhakti funded by Kelola and Hivas (the anti-AIDS organisation) to revitalise topeng as part of acara desa (mapag sri, unjungan etc), village rituals in the Indramayu, Cirebon and Majalengka area (see http://finance.dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/media-jakarta/message/6744). Astana does not normally sponsor topeng for Barikan - and it was perceived as a 'hiburan' (light entertainment) by Suganda.
The second was that Wangi brought with her a few dozen topeng students of various ages from a number of different kecamatan in Indramayu who performed rampak-style the various mask dances. Wangi concluded the show herself. This inclusion of students of different abilities, Wangi told me, allowed her topeng students to experience the ambience of village rituals, AND also gave local audiences the chance to see that topeng could be learned by young people. Wangi encouraged accompanying parents to sawer - offer money in the former a shower of coins or bank notes stuck into costumes.
The dancing was of a surprisingly high quality, and Wangi was the attentive teacher, fixing costumes during performances, cueing musicians as necessary, mirroring dance movements, and making minor corrections.
The pendopo outside the royal graveyard of Astana Gunung Jati was packed.