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.
COSTUME DRAMA AND GAMELAN MUSIC FROM JAVA, INDONESIA
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
Friday, 20 June 2003, 8 pm
Kibble Palace, Botanic Gardens
730 Great Western Road
Donation at the door
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.
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.