Tuesday, August 11, 2009

KL, Johor, KL

Another busy weekend for this Indonesian performance goer.

On Friday 7 August I went to the Valentine Willie Fine Art, a chique gallery in Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur for the opening of Yogyakarta artist Iwan Effendi's solo exhibit 'Two Shoes for Dancing'. Iwan runs the puppet company Papermoon with his wife Ria, and for the exhibit she created a short solo puppet monologue (with a puppet designed by Iwan) that she performed in the gallery. A blue-faced puppet with a video monitor for a body named Oui articulated English-language texts painted on the wall of the gallery that linked Iwan's paintings and drawings into a narrative. Oui spoke (in English) about being an ordinary hard-working guy trying to make a living and meeting a girl and having 'hot' sex. The monitor inside him flashed images of shoes but without feet these can only cause disconent. A pair of baby shoes descends from overhead, suggesting hope.

The following day I took students from the Cultural Centre of the University of Malaya down to Kampung Permatang Duku in Johor to see a UM-sponsored Javanese wayang kulit performance by Sukarjo bin Supoyo and the Tunas Warisan gamelan ensemble. We arranged for the students to be 'anak angkat' (adopted children) of members of the kampung. We also saw a bit of a katam (a ceremony in which a girl read the Koran for the first time), were introduced to the kampung by the kampung headman and various kampung officials at the Balai Raya (village hall) and visited a tempe factory.

The performance started around 9.30pm with a short talu played by the gamelan and a 'tari Jawa' created by a young local dancer with campursari accompaniment. Sukarjo then offered a short speech. He presented wayang as a 'warisan' from Java. He made it clear as well that he does not use offerings at performances, with the exception of Ruwatan ritual drama.

Sukarjo then began the lakon - titled Wahyu Eko Buwana - which went on until around 4 in the morning to the student's absolute amazement.

The story began with Pathet Nem in Dwarawati. Bomo, Kresna's son, arrives to ask about the wahyu, which will bring victory in war. He gets into an altercation with Setyaki though, who knows that Bomo will use the wahyu for ill purposes, and a battle breaks out.

Pathet sanga begins with a goro-goro with many standard gending dolonan (such as Lumbung Desa and Prau), a penditaan scene in which Arjuna is advised by an old priest to seek the wahyu in Kendali Sabda (Hanoman's heritage) and a prang kembang.

Pathet manyura features the revelation of the wahyu in Kendali Sabda. Hanoman first tells representatives of the Kurawa (Dorna, Sengkuni, Karna) that the wahyu can only be received by someone who makes himself pure (suci) first. Dorna is incensed. How dare an animal talk to him, a priest, about purity? A battle breaks out. None of the Kurawa are able to even lift the cupu (receptacle) which contains the wahyu, let alone take it with them. Arjuna arrives, talks with Hanoman, and then receives the wahyu, defeats the Kurawa and returns to Amarta. Tanceb kayon.

The show is permeated by an informal atmosphere. Gamelan musicians arrive and leave. A number of my students 'have a go' at playing some of the simpler gamelan instruments. Some of them have never played gamelan before. I perform a bit of the prang gagal in pathet nem. Annas, a student with aspirations to become a dalang himself, sits next to the dalang for much of the show. Sukarjo also wants Annas to perform part of the lakon, but he demurs as he has had only a few classes with me so far. Hermantoro, a gamelan teacher visiting from UTM in Johor Baru, plays gender in pathet nem and teaches bonang parts to some of the musicians. Few members of the audience understand Sukarjo's 'basa Jawa alus' and are capable of following the story. But the kampung people appreciate the atmosphere that wayang creates, a perfect backdrop for socialising, eating, drinking and so on. So do my students.

The next day (9 August) I go to the bangsawan show Tot Mamat dan Mimpi Tuanku by the Istana Budaya troupe Nilam Sari at Panggung Bandaraya in the Dataran Merdeka at the centre of Kuala Lumpur. The play is a staple of the bangsawan repertoire, recently made into a musical, and the troupe is first-rate. A number of the actors are also movie and tv stars and the hall is packed. This is not a 'Javanese' play but the character of Puteri Gunang Ledang is portrayed as ethnically Javanese (and performs in both a 'Javanese' dance as an extra turn and a jaipong-inspired number in the play itself). The interpretation of Java is very loose and highly exoticised. But the audience laps it up. Escapism rules.

No comments: