Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sunarno Purwolelono

I just learned via Facebook that Sunarno Purwolelono has passed away. A dancer and choreographer who was also a lecturer at ISI Solo, Mas Narno worked at the Indonesian Embassy in London for a number of years, and in 2003 we invited him up to Glasgow to do a small ketoprak performance in the Botanical Gardens, along with his son Aji, one of my students in Theatre Studies and Gamelan Naga Mas.

As a way of remembering him, I attach the programme for this performance below.

Sugeng tindak Mas Narno.


Imagine a tropical island of regents, princes, princesses, evil genies and clowns that never existed… set to the music of the lively gongs, drums and percussion of gamelan…

Gamelan Naga Mas and Friends
With special guest
Sunarno Purwolelono

Friday, 20 June 2003, 8 pm
Kibble Palace, Botanic Gardens
730 Great Western Road
Donation at the door

About Ketoprak
Ketoprak (also spelled Kethoprak) is a form of popular theatre accompanied by Gamelan music, from Java, Indonesia. It is generally believed that it originated in south central Java as a rural folk form, involving singing and possibly dancing and clowning, during harvest time. The name is said to be onomatopoeic – from the rhythmic prak, prak pounding sounds of wood against wood as rice is pounded in wooden troughs by harvesters. The form underwent radical change around 1925, developing into a full-blown theatrical genre, in which a variety of story types (Javanese legend and history, Roman toga dramas, Biblical sagas and the like) were performed by costumed actors on stage, with improvised dialogue in Javanese. Ketoprak enjoyed enormous popularity from the start, so much so that the Dutch colonial authorities sent spies to observe performances, suspicious that it contained nationalist and Communist hidden political messages. Initially accompanied by European musical instruments, Gamelan became the customary musical accompaniment in the 1930’s, borrowing many musical items and conventions from the Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet) repertoire, but retaining the prak, prak wood-against-wood sound to introduce musical pieces and accentuate movement.

Over the years, Ketoprak has been known as the ‘drama of the little people’, with more accessible language and a greater accentuation on romantic themes than the more austere and classical Wayang Kulit of Central Java. Most plays are pseudo-historical, with little or no actual grounding in historical events, but with lavish attention to imagined customs and traditions of the historical imagination. In the 1990s, Ketoprak underwent a further evolution as it entered into the domain of television and Video Compact Disks. Ketoprak became Ketoprak Humor (Humourous Ketoprak), with much of the flowery Javanese replaced by lingua franca Indonesian, and a great emphasis on clowning and tomfoolery. Many Ketoprak actors (particularly clowns) are contemporary Indonesian cultural icons, appearing in television ads and imitated by Indonesians around the archipelago.

Tonight’s story: ‘The Tale of Suta Kesuma’
Tonight’s story follows a scenario by Matthew Isaac Cohen, with stage direction by Sunarno Purwolelono. The Bupati (regent) Wireng Kesuma has been forced to exile his son Suta Kesuma to the forest for his refusal to show proper respect to the East Indies Company. In this same forest there is a man-eating genie who holds captive the beautiful princess Sekar Kedaton, daughter of the sultan of Mataram. The evil genie attacks Suta Kesuma but is defeated in battle, and the princess and Suta Kesuma fall in love (of course) but before they can return to Sekar Kedaton’s kingdom, they hear the sound of voices. The regent and his party have been trapped by vampiric plants and only the boldness of Suta Kesuma can free them. Father and son make amends and the regent vows that he will do everything in his power to see that the happy couple is soon wedded.

About gamelan
Gamelan is the traditional gong-chime orchestra of Indonesia, usually made of bronze or iron. Many of the instruments are tuned gongs and metallophones, and there are various hand drums (kendhang), flutes (suling) and small string instruments (rebab, siter) as well. The gamelan can be played by as many as 25 musicians and singers and is often used to accompany dance, drama, puppet theatre and ceremonials. The music is highly polyphonic and stratified in structure, based on repeating gong cycles.

Gamelan Naga Mas profile
Gamelan Naga Mas (Golden Dragon Gamelan) is a community combined arts group, specializing in performance traditions of Indonesia. The group was founded in 1991 and plays on a gamelan pelog (heptatonic gong-chime ensemble) made by Pak Suhirjan in Yogyakarta (central Java), and owned by the Glasgow City Council. The instruments themselves are currently housed in the Tramway. Gamelan Naga Mas has performed music, dance, theatre and shadow puppet theatre throughout England and Scotland. Members of the group include community and professional musicians, composers and university lecturers in the performing arts. Experienced Gamelan players and interested novices are welcome. Contact M. Cohen at (0141) 330 6286. Prior guest artists who have performed with Gamelan Naga Mas include Dr Joko Susilo (artistic director 2001-2002), Pudji Astuti Jansen, Helen Evans, Aris Daryono and I Nyoman Wenten. For more information see our website, www.nagamas.co.uk

Wireng Kesuma and Evil Genie Sunarno Purwolelono
Suta Kesuma Srianggo Aji Nuhoro
Sekar Kedaton Aviva Kartiningsih Cohen
Woody, the Woodcutter Sam Rowe

Kendhang and musical direction Signy Jakobsdottir
Saron Jon Keliehor
Saron Hooi Ling Eng
Demung Katherine Waumsley
Demung and slenthem J. Simon van der Welt
Saron peking Matthew Isaac Cohen
Bonang Mary Anne Carroll
Kenong Martin Sewel
Gong Margaret Smith

Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies, University of Glasgow; Glasgow City Council; Tramway; Ewen Donaldson; the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia.

Open House at Wisma Duta with the Abresso Band

I attended the Open House at the Wisma Duta (the residence of the Indonesian Ambassador) on 26 December in Wassenaar. This was an annual celebration of Christmas for Christian Indonesians in the Netherlands, and featured short speeches by and recognition for a number of prominent members of the community; free food; and live music by the Abresso Band from Papua, as well as karaoke Christmas songs sung by locals. The event was held in a couple of tents set up in the Wisma Duta's back yard. A prayer service (which I did not attend) was held in the morning before the reception.

There were many Chinese Indonesians in attendance, some students, and a good number of Indonesian-Dutch couples and their children.

Searching around on line, the Abresso Band seems to be one of Indonesia's most celebrated reggae bands. It was flown in explicitly for this event at the Wisma Duta, though it will be doing one more public gig in Groningen later this week as well.

The band played well (I thought the bass player was particularly good) but was hardly 'hard core' reggae and happily played Christmas numbers (some accompanying local singers), poco-poco and the like.

Also announced was the name of the new ambassador to Den Haag, Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, best known as the investigator charged with looking into the death of human rights activist Munir in the Netherlands in 2004. In interviews, Retno Marsudi talks about herself as a true Javanese who listens to gamelan music to unwind. Let's hope she also supports Javanese arts when Ambassador.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Teeuw Prize Award Ceremony

Elsje Plantema, the Amsterdam-based gamelan teacher and performer, received the Professor Teeuw Award 2011 for her contributions to Dutch-Indonesian musical exchange. Past recipients of this award include Indonesian writer Goenawan Mohamad and F.X. Suhardi Djojoprasetyo, a gamelan performer and teacher attached for many years to the Indonesian embassy in the Hague.

The prize ceremony for Elsje Plantema took place at Amsterdam's musical conservatory on 21 December. Two of the gamelan directed by Elsje played pieces by Nartosabdho and Lou Harrison (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0GNaHX2iz0&list=UUiBzyz9zXadZxAg_kyL1FRw&index=2&feature=plcp), Lutgard Mutsaers (author of a book on Indo-Rock, and also a forthcoming book on keroncong) delivered a laudatio, and I presented an illustrated lecture on gamelan in Europe (drawing on my book Performing Otherness, as well as a couple of other recent or forthcoming publications).

The highlight for me I think was saxophonist Yukari Uekawa and Gamelan Mugi Rahayu playing Harrison's A Cornish Lancaran)- pictured above. I spoke to Elsje after the event and she said that the soloist was a former gamelan student of hers at the Conservatorium. Much of the sax part is improvised, and Elsje attributed the success of Yukari's rendition to the player's understanding of gamelan structure (particularly the use of seleh notes).

'High tea' was served after the formal presentations were over - which meant cakes and tea.

It was very nice to meet up with gamelan folk from around the Netherlands, and the event had a very celebratory feel to it. My own talk was nicely received- good publicity for the book, and a way of giving something back to a community of interest which supported it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Karo-begrafenismuziek, Louis Couperus Museum, Den Haag

Juara Ginting's Karo Leiden-based Karo group of musicians and dancers, joined by guest artist Pulumun Ginting from Medan (part of a contingent of PhD students from Indonesia currently working on PhD proposals in Leiden, backed by the Kajian Tradisi Lisan and the KITLV) offered a suite of pieces from Karo death rituals at the Louis Couperus Museum in The Hague on 17 December 2011 in conjunction with an exhibition on death and funerals (http://www.couperusmuseum.org/press_d.html).

What started off as a piece of sandiwara, with very theatrical declamations from Juara backed by mannequins of Dutch mourners in the museum exhibition (on loan from the National Theatre), transformed over the course of the event into a heartfelt expression of grief. This was perhaps due to the utter conviction of Nelly, the principal female singer and dancer of the group, who runs the Sumatra House eatery in Leiden. Nelly's niece, Tari (who has taken time out of her studies in Medan to work at the eatery for a few months, returning at the end of the month), said she felt a bit 'grogi' in this unusual setting.

I spoke to Juara afterwards and he admitted to being very moved by the experience. He noticed that I did not really clap after each of the pieces - which involved surrogation (a piece of cloth for a dead child?), confession, crying, ecstasy, maybe even possession. Indeed I admitted it was hard to know how to react to this performance, I told him, but I felt very moved. This made it a 'sukses' as a piece of art (seni) he said.

The museum is very small, and the performance was full to capacity. A glass of wine was available afterwards.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Kajian Tradisi Lisan "Workshop"

I attended a presentation on Friday (2 December 2011) of the Kajian Tradisi Lisan researchers who are spending 3 months in Leiden. Most of them are PhD students who are developing their proposals, and are working in many areas - from ruwatan, to death ceremonies, oral poetry etc. -- in cultures and societies around the Indonesian archipelago.

The group of 20-25 students and lecturers delivered what was billed as a 'workshop' at the dance studio of the LAKTheater of Leiden University to an audience of about 40 to 50 people. The event was facilitated by Clara Brakel, a researcher who also heads up a Javanese dance troupe, Kuwung-Kuwung. On offer was a short solo kentrung performance, jaipongan and Balinese dances (which I had seen previously in Den Haag),lagu Ambon and what was definitely the highlight of the event - a series of Karo Batak songs and dances that brought together two very talented musicians from Sumatra; the owner of Sumatra House, a local eatery, and her niece; supplemented by members of Kuwung-Kuwung who played a number of musical instruments.

After the performance, which lasted about 90 minutes, there was a nice social event upstairs with tea and vegetarian lumpia, a chance to meet and greet.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Iwan Gunawan Lecture-Demo

I attended last night a lecture-demonstration by Iwan Gunawan, a Bandung-based composer and director of the contemporary gamelan ensemble Kyai Fatahillah. Iwan is in the Netherlands for two months working together with the Dutch dance company LeineRoebana on a piece titled Ghost Track which explores the Indonesian heritage of the company's co-director the Dutch-born Harijono Roebana. Ghost Track, which premiered in Breda on 18 November will tour the country until 23 December.

Iwan spoke at length about his compositional methods, and also played a number of videos of his work (which combines gamelan with electronic music) and a few sound recordings. He also played a few pieces together with his group's sinden Endang and a suling/ tarawangsa player. (There are 7 members of Iwan's group performing in Ghost Track, along with 3 dancers from Solo.)

Iwan is a traditionally-trained musician, with experience in wayang golek, Cianjuran and calung. He studied music in university with Dieter Mack, who introduced him to the word 'contemporary'. Iwan's university studies also introduced him to the use of musical notation for composition, but after graduating he found that there were no musicians who could play his work, so he write music for his students who make up the members of his group Kyai Fatahillah.

He says he does not write for Sundanese, Javanese or Balinese gamelan but rather for gamelan generally. He tends to use central Javanese instruments (often combining slendro and pelog in one piece) but derives techniques from all 3 of these gamelan traditions. He is interested in exploring the sounds of gamelan. Sometimes this involves using a bow on percussion instruments, sometimes placing a gong on the floor rather than hanging it from a stand, sometimes experimenting with damping techniques. He references traditional forms; for example the electro-acoustic piece Fonem (http://vodpod.com/watch/1301908-fonem)refers to wayang golek conventions in different ways. But he wishes to be able to have more control over intensity and dynamics than is traditional.

Over the last years, he has arranged and performed Steve Reich's Six Marimbas (1986) both with his own group and also Ensemble Gending, a Dutch gamelan group, for 7 and 13 players. He said what drew him to this piece was not Reich's minimalism - Iwan already knew about minimalism from gamelan - but rather Reich's techniques for musical development. This work has been performed here in Holland the international gamelan festival in Amsterdam, at Salihara in Jakarta, and also in Berlin.

The collaboration with LeineRoebana was sparked by a chance meeting with the company's co-director Harijono Roebana in Amsterdam in 2010. Roebana was interested in exploring his Indonesian heritage together with Iwan. Iwan approached the project with trepidation as he had not worked with a European choreographer before. He feels that the grounds for any collaboration is mutual respect, and wanted to make sure that their work together would be sensitive to cultural issues. Additionally Roebana wanted to 'use' traditional music in the work, and Iwan was not sure that he could do this in an ethically sensitive manner - one cannot just 'put' tradition into a contemporary frame.

Iwan and LeineRoebana sent materials (music, videos of past dance work) back and forth by email over some months, discussing their artistic philosophies as well. Then Roebana travelled to Indonesia where he worked intensely with Iwan over some weeks and auditioned dancers in Solo and did some initial exploratory workshops. Then Iwan and the Indonesia dancers and musicians spent 4 weeks in Holland for rehearsals. The piece was performed in Jakarta before its official premiere in Breda (where LeineRoebana is a company in residence).

Iwan said that some of the pieces in Ghost Track were already written, others especially composed for the work. Some parts are improvisational, others precisely notated. In rehearsal he found that sometimes he could create something with his musicians on the spur of the moment, but other times he needed to work out a score by himself in the privacy of his own room working on his computer. In Indonesia, Iwan said, music is like the weather, never completely predictable. In Europe he has observed everything needs to be fixed in advance.

This is not a bad thing, for Iwan at least, who creates music with notation (and has therefore sometimes been accused of being 'too Westerern' kebarat-baratan). For in Indonesia, when he has worked with dancers, they 'feel' the music but don't understand it intellectually. For example they are unable to identify shifts in meter.

As both Iwan and LeieneRoebana's dancers and choreographers understand metrical structures, there is a ground for communication.

In the lecture demo I enjoyed particularly hearing Iwan's sinden Endang (who trained with the late Euis Komarah) sing a solo, an improvisation by one of Iwan's musicians involving multiphonics and words spoken through a suling, and a lovely Cianjuran number (pictured above).

I look forward to seeing Ghost Track when it plays at Leiden's LAKtheater this coming weekend.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pasar Kliling and Pasar Malam Rijswijk

Yesterday (5 November 2011) I attended the Pasar Malam Kliling, an annual celebration organized by the Javanese-Surinamese cultural association Stiching Manggar Megar, followed by the Pasar Malam Rijswijk. The former took place in a community hall in Den Haag, the latter in an expo centre in the adjacent town of Rijswijk.

The Pasar Kliling was essentially a community event with a focus on cultural acts of members and friends of the Surinamese Javanese community - we saw a Surabaya-born singer named Melani perform karaoke covers of popular Indonesian and Western songs, a cross-dressed belly dancer who brought out two remarkably big snakes and invited audience members on stage, street dance by girls of Javanese descent, jaipongan and a Balinese dance (Tari Tenun) performed (to CD) by two students of tradisi lisan who are spending 3 months in Leiden developing their PhD proposals, a fashion show of old Surinamese creole costumes, and a warrior dance (wireng) and bedaya performed to live gamelan accompaniment under the direction of Bp Suhardi Djojoprasetyo (pictured above). Surinamese food (ginger beer, bara, nasi and bami goreng, sate etc), Javanese DVDs and CDs, Hindu religious paraphernalia etc were for sale. At the entrance was a box where people could offer an optional monetary donation. I bought a recent DVD of Mantjes House Band- one of Suriname's best known Javanese pop bands from a Surinamese-Javanese vendor after consulting with him in low Javanese. (He thanked me for the purchase with a friendly 'kesuwun'.)

The Pasar Malam was more commercial in orientation. Entry was 8 Euros at the door. There were two podiums for performance, and perhaps 100 stands selling various wares and services (Buddha statues, Thai massages, wayang golek puppets) and the normal sorts of food one buys at pasar malam in the Netherlands (I had reasonably good es tape, pisang goreng and kelapa muda). The pasar was fairly quiet when I arrived (at 6pm or so) but the podium where a karaoke singer named Dewi Mass did poco-poco songs and Whitney Huston covers and a band called Band Marabunta was thronged by dancing spectators. I enjoyed chatting with a book vendor (from whom I purchased, among other items, Wajang Foxtrot, a beautiful catalogue of a 2011 exhibition in Rotterdam of sheet music covers from the Indies with an accompanying CD).

All in all, a nice day out.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Indonesian arts in the Netherlands

I'm a fellow this year at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study and spending the academic year living on campus in the village of Wassenaar (located between Den Haag and Leiden). It is an interesting time, as they say, to be back in Holland (I was a postdoc at the IIAS in Leiden in 1998-2000), with many of the main supporting institutions for Indonesian studies and theatre under attack by government funding cuts.

Nevertheless, there is still lots that I've been able to attend. A Pesta Rakyat dan Bazaar Makanan dan Produk Indonesia (pictured above) at the Sekolah Indonesia in Wassenaar - a replacement for the annual Hari Merdeka celebrations(10 Sep), an academic symposium Recording the Future sponsored by the KITLV (6 Oct), a touring production from Yogya-based choreographer Martinus Miroto 'Di Belakang' (6 Oct at the Korzo Theatre in Den Haag), a major exhibition on colonial Indonesia and culture at the KIT (23 October), a workshop on Colonial Nostalgia at the KITLV (27 October).

Now that I've settled in, and my camera is working properly, I hope to be able to offer more detailed impressions of some of the events I attend.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Arak-Arakan on the Cocos Islands

I've been doing online newspaper searches the last weeks towards my next book (a history of theatre and performance in modern Indonesia). Yesterday I used an Australian site- http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/. One of my searches, on keroncong, revealed an article about a 1954 visit of the Queen to the Coocos Islands. This small island chain, today part of Australia, is inhabited by 500 "Malays" and 100 people of European descent. The Malays, it seems, originate from various parts of Nusantara, brought there starting in the early 19th century to work on the island's coconut groves. Their music in the 1950s was described as a mixture of kroncong and Scottish "foursome reels".

An online video (above) shows that today their music (and ceremonies) is much more Malaysian than Indonesian - the result it seems of Cocos Islanders working in Malaysia and marrying Malay women in recent decades.

What a fascinating ethnographic site this would make!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Leonard Retel Helmrich's Post-Reformasi Trilogy

Yesterday, I attended the screening of a trilogy of films by Indo-Dutch filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich at Open City, a festival of documentary film currently on at UCL.

The trilogy follows the fortune of an extended family living in a small house in a Jakarta slum, roughly over the years 1998 to 2010 - a micro-history of change in politics, economics and religion.

These three films Eye of the Day (2001), Shape of the Moon (2004) and Position among the Stars (2010) are remarkable in the intimacy with their subjects. The grandmother Rumidjah, who owns the house, is a practicing Christian, long widowed, who comes originally from a small village in Central Java where Helmrich's own mother was born.

In the first film, set against the demonstrations that led to Soeharto's downfall and the first post-reformasi election, her son Bakti, who still lives with her mother, is a bit of a lay-about, addicted to gambling without career aspirations. We see in the trilogy Bakti drifting away from Christianity and converting to Islam and marrying a Muslim woman (who starts up a small warung in front of the house). Bakti takes to raising fighting fish (which are fried by his wife after a quarrel), and also is elected RT.

Also living in the house is Tari, Sudjinah's grand-daughter who was orphaned at age 6. Over the years, we see Tari transform from an imaginative and spunky kid to a somewhat jaded and diffident adolescent. In the third film, Sudjinah is forced to take out a mortgage against her house in order to pay for Tari's tertiary education in Komunikasi (Media and Communication Studies).

We also see Sudjinah herself in the second film make a go at returning to her natal village Kalimiru (in Purworejo, Jawa Tengah), renovating a house and trying to find day labour in rice fields. She returns to Jakarta in the third film though to help with Tari, who has been having trouble with her high school studies.

Helmrich in all this is both a documentarian and an instigator of scenes, observer and participant. Though never seen on camera, he is on intimate terms with the family. Camera work is extraordinary - never before has daily life in under-class Indonesia seen such exposure.

I first encountered Helmrich from his remarkable documentary about Dutch experimental puppetry, Moving Objects (1991) - which I saw at the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre, and reviewed his documentary about Indonesian puppeteer Agus Nur Amal, Promised Paradise (2006), for Asian Theatre Journal.

I had hoped to meet Helmrich at the opening of the festival last night, at which Position among the Stars was shown. Unfortunately he had to go to California, where his film is being promoted by HBO for an academy award nomination.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ecological Body Open Day

I attended the Ecological Body Open Day yesterday. This was the final day of a five-day workshop titled Ecological Body run by Suprapto Suryodarmo and Sandra Reeve at Sandra's house in West Dorset, on the south coast of England. The 16 people who attended the workshop were joined by about a dozen spectator-participants. It was billed as one of Prapto's last workshops in the UK and there was reportedly a lot of crying at a 2 hour long 'processing' session that ended the day. (I took a long walk along the beach with Hannah, looking for fossils, during this session, which was open only to workshop participants.)

Workshop participants were divided into three movement groups - daily life (identified by wearing a red thread), healing/therapy and performance. Each participant performed a solo piece set in different niches around Sandra's garden, and then a series of group pieces. After the group pieces, there was an opportunity for visitors to move together with the participants in the settings that groups had identified for showing daily life movement (a vegetable garden), healing/therapy (a group of trees) and performance (a little grassy hill backed by some bushes, which functioned as a kind of backstage area).

After lunch supplied by a local organic food vendor, there were a series of somewhat improvised performances by participants and visitors (some of them authorised teachers of Suprapto's method). This included a piece by Suprapto called Sea Song, in which he addressed a wire sculpture titled ManChild created by Greta Berlin through movement, chanting, incense and a flower offering; a piece called Settling by Sandra Reeve which combined pantomime gestures with dance; a piece by Alex Crowe called Time for Words, in which he danced with an ax (handled in the style of a pencak silat artist) as Simon Slidders improvised a text about time and the garden; and a series of English folk songs (somewhat improvised, again) sung with gusto by Keith Miller- all of which related to the local topography and the history of the house.

Suprapto was mostly quiet throughout the performances - as he was busy documenting the presentations with a handicam. But he spoke a couple of times, mentioning how the visit of a number of monks to the workshop reminded him of how shocked people in Indonesia were initially that he would involve monks in performances; how in the past workshop participants did not appreciate that male monks cannot be touched by women (miming a gesture of horror at being touched); the transformation from ecology to logos and back to ecology; the importance of connecting to mythos via storytelling.

After the processing session, and before Sandra drove me back to the local train station, I was able to have a short interview with Suprapto about art for ritual vs. art for arts sake; the post-1998 re-emergence of ritual art; and connections between his own practice and that of his daughter Melati. All themes I hope to take up in my new book on theatre and performance in modern Indonesia.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gamelan Lila Cita on ZingZillas

Surfing the web I came across an episode of the BBC children's show ZingZillas, featuring a pencak silat number accompanied by Gamelan Lila Cita. This can be viewed in the UK on BBC iPlayer at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00s61lc/ZingZillas_Series_1_Welcome_Beach_Byrds/ (starting at 6.54).

This sort of thing would have been reported upon in the past in Seleh Notes or the UK Gamelan Information website. Unfortunately since Sheila Cude stopped playing gamelan and managing the website and magazine, we aren't getting news!

Hope somebody else takes up this role.... The UK is not that large a country, but none of us surely is aware of everything going on in Indonesian arts....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Wayang Garing

My recent show 'A Dalang in Search of Wayang' has been occupying a lot of my attention recently.

It is interesting for me to think about related efforts. The BBC has a short documentary about a Banten-based performer who has been doing what he calls Wayang Garing (Dry Wayang) for decades.


Then of course there is Jlitheng Suparman, who recently has been touring Wayang Climen, which features a reduced gamelan of 8 musicians plus 2 pesinden.

I did something similar to this at my British Library performances with the Southbank Gamelan Players back in 2008. It is of course normal practice in Cirebon to have a reduced gamelan for wayang awan and ruwatan, so perhaps nothing unusual. There is a lot to be said for performances with a reduced gamelan in smaller spaces to generate a more intimate relation with audiences.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Joanna Soh's tv feature on 'A Dalang in Search of Wayang'

Joanna Soh, a Malaysian student who studied wayang kulit briefly at Sunway College (in a course co-taught by my friend Eddin Khoo), has recently produced a short tv feature on my new production, 'A Dalang in Search of Wayang'.

She shot the full show when I did an 'open rehearsal' of it at the Centre for Creative Collaboration in London on 28 March 2011, and also conducted a short interview with me and people attending, including puppeteer Sean Myatt, Aya Nakamura, Matt Jackson, Caroline Astell-Burt and Mark Downs. (All were invited for the show, and also a workshop delivered earlier in the day by American puppet director and theorist Roman Paska.)

I think Joanna did a very good job - though no doubt some Indonesian viewers will not be happy that she included a clip of Kelantan-style wayang kulit by Malaysian puppetry students at the beginning of the video, and that she refers to wayang as originating in Malaysia and Indonesia - rather than the other way round! A salutary reminder that Malaysians see wayang as a bridge for cultural communication with Indonesia.

Have a look at the segment on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvZGP2lQ0d0).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Minister of Religion's Visit to Al-Zaytun

One of the remarkable developments documented in Laurie Margot Ross's PhD thesis on topeng in Cirebon and Indramayu (Journeying, Adaptation, and Translation:
Topeng Cirebon at the Margins, UCal Berkeley, 2009) is the introduction of topeng and other other regional arts into pesantren around the region. Pesantren had formerly been indifferent and often hostile to such traditions as topeng, and the motivations behind this move were a bit mysterious.

Today Al-Zaytun, the largest pesantren in Indramayu and one of the largest in Indonesia, put this arts education to use, playing terbang and gamelan to greet the arrival of indonesian's Minister of Religion.

(See http://www.metrotvnews.com/read/newscatvideo/nusantara/2011/05/11/128002/Panji-Gumilang-Kerahkan-Santri-Sambut-Menag for a video)

Al-Zaytun is being formally investigated for its links with Negara Islam Indonesia (NII), a banned political movement. I take the showcasing of gamelan in particular, prominently highlighted in news reports, as an attempt to showcase the pesantren's tolerance.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Baby Arabia

Yesterday I attended the only scheduled UK screening of a documentary titled Baby Arabia, about a Thai Muslim pop group based in Bangkok. After the screening at SOAS, one of the film's creators, a screenwriter who also writes for the Bangkok Post, conducted a q&a session.

The band started in 1976 as a nasjid group covering popular Arabic, Malay and Indonesian songs. (The Malay and Indonesian repertoire is referred to locally as 'Malay-Arabic'.) Baby Arabia added instruments over time - guitar, bass, drum kit, accordion - and also incorporated female vocalists and a backup chorus. On stage, the singers dress in Malay garb (though they wear normal Thai clothing off). They have little understanding of the meaning of the Arabic, Malay and Indonesian lyrics they sing, and even unable to articulate their sources, but these songs are enjoyed by local audiences The long-lived band performs some 150 concerts a year (lasting 2 to 6 hours), typically playing mosque fairs and private celebrations, sometimes earning only 300 baht. Band members have other jobs- one works as a motorcycle taxi driver.

The documentary is essentially a concert film which follows the band to gigs around the Bangkok area and also provides glimpses into band members' lives and religious practices. For example, we see the lead female vocalist teaching a class in Quranic recitation to boys. (She claims she is a better teacher than a man as her voice is closer in register to the boys'.) It is a portrait of a minority culture in a major Asian metropolis.

The film makers are all Thai Muslims and say they made the film to show the voice of moderate Islam. After 9/11 and the escalation of violence in the south of Thailand, Muslims in Thailand suffered from negative stereotypes, and the voices that dominated the media were extremists who espoused radicalism, counterposed by liberal Muslims who often offered anti-Islamic comments.

Listening now to the sound track as a type this post, I hear the music as Indonesian- a variant of orkes Melayu. But Thai experts in attendance said they perceived the backup rhythms as Thai country music, and the backup dancers in their cute costumes as typically Thai. So an interesting case of transnational hybridity.

A DVD of the documentary is planned.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Livestreaming of the Bandung Wayang Festival 2011

Learned today via the gamelan list that the Bandung Wayang Festival 2011 was being streamed live. I caught the end of a Wayang Klithik performance and also Wayang Kartun from Yogyakarta. I found it quite odd taking notes on a wayang by typing at my desktop computer and taking screen shots. But how else to document the show? Though I requested via a live comment section on the webpage (http://itv.itenas.ac.id/) that the performance be posted on youtube, there is no guarantee that it will be. Such as the world of technology we inhabit.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bagpipes and Gamelan

Rehearsing now for a wayang with Gamelan Madu Sari, Vancouver's Javanese gamelan group, for Gong! Vancouver Gamelan Festival, which celebrates 25 years of gamelan in Vancouver (Canada). Madu Sari is also busy rehearsing for a concert of new music for the gamelan written by group members. One of the most interesting pieces on this programme is Beledrone, composed by Madu Sari member Michael O’Neill, who features as bagpipe soloist.

Bagpipes and gamelan have a strange affinity, and there have been a number of noteworthy cross-overs in recent years, including a composition by Wesleyan facutly member I.M. Harjito, and a collaboration between Scottish piper Barnaby Brown and Gamelan Naga Mas.

Would be interesting to investigate this phenomenon of gamelan/bagpipe fusion more, perhaps....

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wayan Sadra, RIP

While checking email on board a ferry from Victoria to Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada), sitting next to Pak Sutrisno Hartana, I received an FB message from the ASTI/STSI/ISI Surakarta alumni mailing list that the great gamelan composer I Wayan Sadra passed away today at 12.05 am in the RS Muwardi Surakarta.

I actually stayed very briefly in Sadra's house during my first weeks in Indonesia in 1988 - at the time he was renting out a few rooms at the back, and AL Suwardi arranged for me stay in one of them. I had little notion at the time that I was staying in the house of one of Indonesia's most important experimental composers, responsible for developing whole new ways of conceiving gamelan.

The loss of this major figure in Indonesian arts will be felt by many.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Indonesian Arts in Victoria

I am visiting Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, for a couple of days prior to a performance with Gamelan Madu Sari in Vancouver, and staying at the house of Sutrisno Hartana, a very talented gamelan musician and amateur dalang, who has lived in British Columbia on-and-off since the 1990s.

Sutrisno worked at the consultate in Vancouver for a couple of years in the mid-1990s and in 2004 returned to BC to do a Masters in Ethnomusicology with Michael Tenzer (on gamelan in the Pakualaman court) and then continued on to do a PhD at the University of Victoria dealing with wayang kulit and gamelan outside of Indonesia (working with Michael Bodden and Astri Wright, among others).

Sutrisno's wife Anis is a pesinden and holds a D3 from ASTI Yogya in Karawitan. She worked in the bagian teknis pertunjukan at Taman Budaya Yogyakarta until the family's move to Canada in 2004. Pak Tris, Ibu Anis and their two daughters (Lulu aged 12 and Ayun aged 16) often perform small gamelan concerts on instruments borrowed from the consulate. To make ends meet, Sutrisno also teaches a number of gamelan groups in Victoria and Vancouver, and Anis has a small catering business that provides meals to Indonesian cruise ship workers when they dock in Victoria. This, it was explained to me, was seasonal work - about 3-5 cruise ships dock weekly in Victoria circa May-September on their way from Seattle to Alaska, many of them manned by Indonesians who 'rindu' their native cuisine.

It has been an interesting visit here so far. Not only is Pak Tris is a VERY talented musician and rehearsing for the wayang with him has been good and productive, he is as interested in my practice as a 'dalang mancanegara' as I am in his own situation. He is pumping me with questions relevant to his PhD thesis even as I am observing his own work and family life. Needless to say, the food is good too.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

R.I.P. H. Abdul Adjib

Inna lillahi wa inna lilahi rojiiun. The world of Cirebonese performing art has lost another of its great figures, the dalang tarling H. Abdul Adjib who died today (26 February 2011).

Adjib (also known as Adjid) was the director of the tarling company Putra Sangkala, founded in the 1960s. He was one of a cohort of actor-director-musicians who defined this music theatre genre, which combines singing, melodramatic acting and drum, gongs, suling (bamboo flute) and guitars. Others of this cohort include Jayana, Uci Sanusi and Sunarto MA. Only Sunarto is still alive. Since the 1990s, Adjib also had a career doing Islamic solo performances combining sermons and singing. Adjib is best remembered for his tarling musical version of the folk tale Baridin, and the song Warung Pojok (Corner Food Stall).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Anoman Duta in Vancouver

I've recently been invited to do a wayang with Gamelan Madu Sari of Vancouver, Canada. This will be for Gong! The Vancouver Gamelan Festival, celebrating 25 years of gamelan in Vancouver.

Also on the programme festival will be my friend Nyoman Wenten, who teaches at CalArts.

The lakon will be Anoman Duta (Anoman the Envoy), in a 90-minute telling of this iconic tale of the Ramayana. I'll be basing the story mostly on Cirebonese sources, though the gamelan will be playing mostly Solo style pieces (perhaps with some new compositions thrown in), and most of the wayang (borowed from resident artist Sutrisno) are in Yogya style. A real mix.

My telling will play up some of the grotesque elements of the story - including Anoman's meeting with his god-brother Gunung Parasu, the various demons of Ngalengka, and the like. I also hope to interweave the rather more serious story of Wibiksana, who changes sides to ally himself with Rama, even though it means fighting against his homeland.

Should be fun.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spiderman Wayang ad

Just ran into a fun TV ad for the Spiderman movie franchise on Indonesian television featuring wayang versions of Spiderman and various Spidey villains - 'our play is not here [in the world of wayang], but on Trans TV'. The sabetan skills aren't great, but worth a look - and listen too to the pesinden's melody, based on the old cartoon show.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Limbukan from Anom Suloyo

From time to time I surf youtube looking for unusual wayang videos. Here's a rather random one, a very 'kampungan' Limbukan from dalang Anom Suloyo.


The dancing at the screen by Limbuk seems rather gratuitous juxtaposed with the bump and grind routines of the two penyanyi dangdut left of the kotak.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ki Dalang Udaya R.I.P.

Inna lillahi wa inna lilahi rojiiun. I received a text message today from my friend Purjadi that Ki Dalang Abihudaya from Palimanan, Cirebon, passed away on 5 February 2011.

Udaya, as he was better known,was one of the most respected puppeteers in the Cirebon area. After the death of his father, Abyor, and his two uncles, Wari Priyadi and Akirna Hadiwekasan, Udaya took charge of the running of the Sanggar Wening Galih, a small arts centre located in the shadow of Palimanan's factories. This sanggar was best known to puppeteers for its annual 'tutup panggung,' a collective end-of-season ritual where puppeteers performed for puppeteers for free. I contributed to the tutup panggung on a number of occasions. The sanggar also trained many musicians.

Udaya prided himself on being the people's puppeteer. He spoke primarily through the straight-thinking Cungkring in performance, and used wayang as a vehicle for the expression of lower class aspirations. He was not liked by many wayang patrons. He disrupted song requests with battles, as he believed wayang was a verbal art form that should not be compromised by songs. He was a great storyteller and the source of many, many stories. He was known to challenge his assistants to pull out any wayang in the puppet chest, which he would instantly deploy as the main character in the first scene of a newly created story.

I devoted a chapter to his work in my PhD thesis, An Inheritance from the Friends of God (Yale, 1997).

Udaya was one of my 'sesepuh' or elders in Cirebon, somebody I regularly turned to for artistic inspiration, advice and philosophical engagement. Too many of these are now deceased - Saal, Darmabakti, Wartaka, Sujana (Gegesik Kidul), Basari. Yet they live on still in the region's arts.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Wayang Kulit in Thessaloniki

Off tomorrow to give a talk about and solo performance of wayang kulit in Thessaloniki, Greece, for a festival of Asian theatre organised by my PhD student Athina Dragkou. I've always resisted giving wayang kulit performances without live gamelan accompaniment, but for this occasion I am experimenting with a contemporary wayang style developed by Ki Slamet Gundono (pictured above) that combines wayang puppetry with storytelling. I had the opportunity last month of seeing Ki Slamet rehearse and perform one of his contemporary wayang in Cirebon, and am excited to try this new style out. We'll see how it goes.

The Indonesian news service Antara has a short article about the festival - which also features mask expert Margaret Coldiron, who got her PhD at Royal Holloway. Have a look here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Agus Nur Amal

Coming to the end of my first day of a two-week trip to Indonesia. I am spending the first two days of this trip in Jakarta, where I am conducting a few consultations and interviews in relation to a planned book on theatre and performance in modern Indonesia.

Today I met Agus Nur Amal at TIM and went to visit his sanggar. Mas Agus is described in Indonesia sometimes as a monologue artist, but his work more closely approximates what is known as object theatre outside of Indonesia.

I had the opportunity to do a long interview with him, and got to see and photograph some of the 150 or so objects he uses in performances, as well as one of his television booths.

I also got a VCD and a comic to take home with me - which I am looking forward to watching and reading.

Mas Agus is just starting to become known outside of Indonesia- in part because of a documentary film made about him after the Bali bombing titled Promised Paradise. He's performed and conducted workshops in New York, Boston, Zurich and Japan and will be giving a workshop in Prague in June.

I hope to write about him in my book, and might also want to write a stand-alone article about him, or possibly include him in a more general discussion of post-traditional puppet and object theatre in Indonesia.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jakarta's Performing Monkeys Fall on Hard Times

I have just arrived in Jakarta for a couple of weeks of catching up with friends, consulting with a few colleagues and senior figures in the world of Indonesian performance about future research, and attending a conference at UGM.

I was interviewed by a reporter from AOL News last month about Indonesia's monkey show - a long-term interest of mine, which I have written about on a number of occasions.

The article appeared last month under the title 'Jakarta's Performing Monkeys Fall on Hard Times' (http://www.aolnews.com/2010/12/22/jakartas-performing-monkeys-fall-on-hard-times/). Much of it is based on the interview with me - and while there are one or two points that I think are not quite accurate, it is a pretty good reflection of the dialogue.

Not sure if I will see more topeng monyet on this trip -- but certainly hoping I will catch the act described in the article where the monkey gets into a motorcycle accident!