Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tong-Tong Festival

I attended the Tong-Tong Festival again on 22 May in the company of my friend the anthropologist Robert Wessing.

I have been visiting the Tong-Tong Festival, formerly known as the Pasar Malam Besar, with some regularly since 1998. It is a major site for transnational Indonesian performance, a research interest of mine, a contact zone which involves cultural experts; performers from Indonesia and Europe; vendors of crafts, food, service; and the general public. 'The pasar' underwent a name change in 2008 which signals an attempt to move away from the nostalgic mode of 'tempo doeloe' towards a celebration of multi-culturalism and Asia in the world.

Some of the familiar parts of the pasar have been disbanded - there is no dedicated wayang theatre any more. There is definitely less of an emphasis on academic talks on indonesian subjects. There has not been an auction of art and antiques from Indonesia for a decade. The Nusantara Museum (Holland's museum of Indonesia) this year did not have a stand. (It had a stand at every other pasar I have attended.)

I attended two full performances on 22 May - 'Call Me Nyai Ontosoroh' a play from the Jakarta-based theatre company Pentas Teater based on Pramoedya's Bumi Manusia, and a fusion concert of Cianjuran meets tabla and jazz piano.

The former was a fairly straight 'read' of Pramudya. A small cast (4 performers) enacted the narrative of Minke's marriage to a Eurasian woman again a backdrop of seppia-tinted moving images. The actors were amplified and generally melodramatic in delivery, in the style of pre-1990s Indonesian film or sandiwara. English supertitles were projected in very small letters above the stage. Audience members came and went during the performance, which lasted about 80 minutes.

The Cianjuran (kecapi/suling/vocal) concert was also a mixed success. The playing was polished, but balance was an issue. The piano overwhelmed the other instrumentalists on many occasions and seemed unable to accompany the singer. As a result is was less fusion than a Charles Ives like juxtaposition of different musical forms.

I also attended a delightful 'straat' performance of kroncong group Jawara - which was hawking its CDs to 'pay for the cost of transport back to Jakarta' in the words of one of their singers, and saw briefly a 'modern kroncong' group on the main stage.

Robert and other friends reported that the Tong-Tong Festival has been experiencing some tension with the Indonesian Embassy. The Embassy organised a Pasar Malam Indonesia in the same space (the Malieveld fields next to the Central Train Station) in April ( over the protests of Tong-Tong, which has been using this same space for decades. The Tong-Tong people felt that this was a conscious attempt to draw their own audiences away.

The Dutch public seems to have been indifferent to the Pasar Malam Indonesia - they felt it was overpriced, over-full with government propaganda, with not enough vendors and uninteresting performances (despite things on the schedule like 'Miss Indonesische Performance'!).

Because of the Tong-Tong's protests and other tensions, the Embassy refused its personnel permission to participate in the Tong-Tong Festival this year. This meant that oddly the Indonesian embassy's performance group will be presenting a wayang wong fragment at Tong-Tong without any of the regular members who are employed by the embassy.

Tong-Tong has recently published a book celebrating the history of the pasar (Florine Koning, De Pasar Malam van Tong Tong: Een Indische Onderneming, 2009). I have long had the ambition to conduct more academic research on this fascinating, always changing yet always the same event...

No comments: