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.