Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sutajaya Kemit

Last night (20 August) I gave my debut performance as a wayang golek cepak puppeteer in the school yard of SD Negeri I in Pekandangan, Indramayu. The performance was billed as a collaboration with the Sanggar Topeng Mimi Rasinah and indeed featured 3 topeng dances by Aerli (Rasinah's granddaughter and the sanggar's artistic leader) and the sanggar's gamelan and musicians. I also brought along my teacher Ki Dalang Calim and 3 of his musicians (to play kendang, saron and gong) and a bunch of other hanger-oners (Calim's wife, his brother the puppeteer Sukarta, 3 peralatan). It was a simple and rather modest event in many ways - no panggung, 3 few lights, carpets for the audience, minimal amounts of food - but attracted a small but impressive audience including Pak Camat (representing the Bupati), Aas (one of the founders of the famed sandiwara group Candra Kirana), Ki Dalang Rusdi (the most popular puppeteer in the Cirebon-Indramayu area) and others. The funding came from a variety of sources. One of the backers was Pekandangan's young Kuwu (Village Headman) who spent 8 years working in Korea and is intent on transforming Pekandangan into a cultural village (pictured above- in front of a bale which occupies an entire room in his house where some of the village's principal sacred objects are stored- including a tombak and bende). Pak Kuwu has been working with artists in the village and also developing the historical sites, principally the village's shrines. Very enthusiastic volunteer teenage helpers and unpaid gamelan musicians and a sinden (Aerli's own mother) were mobilized by the sanggar. 

I had been working since my arrival in Cirebon on the lakon Arya Kemuning, but when I met with Pak Kuwu last week was asked to perform instead the story of Sutajaya, Pekandangan's iconic cultural hero. As fate would have it, I knew the lakon well as I had worked on a translation of the sandiwara version of it (titled Pusaka Setan Kober) back in 1998-1999 in my postdoc days, and was able to get a good grasp of it in 3 rehearsals with Calim. The performance coincided with Pekandangan's weekly pasar malam and Pak Kuwu requested that we end by 11pm- in the end we started later than anticipated due in part to the many pre-performance speeches and I ended at 11.45 pm, which seemed to be fine with everyone. The full lakon of Sutajaya ends with a long battle against the rebel Prabu Klana Juru Demung but due to the limitations of time I shortened the story to end with Sutajaya's marriage to Sekar Kedaton. This shortened version of the lakon is known generically as Sutajaya Kemit (Sutajaya the Night Watchman). 

Perhaps the most interesting finding for me in my practical studies of wayang golek cepak has been the sorts of negotiations made with audiences and the expressive limits of the genre. There is great concern for factuality-- curtailing artistic license in ways unfamiliar to me from my wayang kulit studies. Nobody knows who Sutajaya's mother is, so Calim said I could not reference her in the opening dialogue between Ki Jebug Angrum and his son Sutajaya. Sutajaya's pusaka is known generally as Keris Setan Kober (largely, I learned from Aas, due to the influence of the Candra Kirana sandiwara recording from 1977). But the elders who met last week prior to my performance made it clear that I had to refer to the keris as Sekober, which they said was short for Syef (i.e. Saif) Kober, a human who was transformed into a keris. I of course honoured this request in performance. The village elders also insisted that I visit (nyekar) the tapakan of Ki Jebug Angrum before my performance to ask the spirits for permission. I went in the company of a village elder (a middle-aged man who ran a tv and air conditioning repair shop out of his house) and Mas Ade, the sanggar's business manager and Aerli's husband. The kuncen there burned incense, recited a long prayer in a combination of Arabic and Javanese asking for 'success' (which he said is what everyone needs and asks for) and also had me make my request permission and forgiveness if I make any mistakes. 

The performance itself came off about as well as might be expected. It took me a while to get used to working with the debogan which felt slightly higher than the ones I had practiced on, and also adjust to the presence of the microphone (which was ditanceb into the debogan). There were also a number of new figures introduced that I had not worked with in rehearsal (minor setan puppets, a couple of pangeran to fill out the scenes set in Kraton Kasepuhan). Dalang Calim was sitting at my side for most of the show, and (somewhat to my annoyance) decided to wrap out signals to the gamelan with a cempala. We had only rehearsed with a saron and I suppose he feared I didn't know how to cue the gamelan. It was good to have him there, however, as he prepared puppets for me and also reminded me on a couple of occasions of minor details. He was also essential at one critical moment - I was unable to slot the wooden keris Sutajaya purchases into his belt and I had to take the wayang off stage and have Calim put it in for me. I had experienced trouble with this bit in rehearsal too - and had not cracked the technique by the time the performance rolled around. I covered the awkwardness of this by a joke about how Sutajaya had never owned a keris before. Most of the gamelan was not experienced in playing wayang golek and had some trouble at least initially with the lagu prang and sulukan; there was also a false start, and Aerli was about to come on stage to do Panji before my first scene rather than immediately after it. The dialogue was generally well crafted though and the sulukan (with one exception) all went off very well. Afterwards, the driver 
complemented me on my singing and voice work ("you could do the voices, both high and low" he said).

There were a good number of children at the show, particularly during the earlier hours, perhaps because we borrowed the SD schoolyard for it. None of them had seen wayang golek before, and watched with great attention as the puppets were taken out of the box and set up in the simpingan (which is invisible to most of the audience as it is behind cloth). Aerli said that the presence of children was most important for her - as these experiences are formative of character and taste. Elders in the audience such as Aas and others who knew the story nodded with approval at familiar details and expressions-- such as the motif that previous kemit who guarded the kraton's treasure room "manjing sore, esuk mati; manjing esuk, sore mati" (enter in the evening and are dead by morning x2). (Seeing the audience directly was also something that took getting used to- though I've had a taste of this from my post-traditional wayang play "A Dalang in Search of Wayang".) Pak Kuwu had learned about Sutajaya principally through internet research and was very pleased I think to see the play acted out as a wayang golek show. Others seemed pleased as well. While Haji Rusdi left early and I didn't get a chance to speak to him and the offer of a performance the next night at Sudimampir did not materialise in the end, due to Ade and Aerli's intervention I was offered the chance of doing another show at the Kabupaten next year in my next visit, and/or at Pekandangan's annual unjungan ceremony which falls 10 days after lebaran. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dian Nada Big Band with Wulan Affandi

I spent the holiday of Idul Fitri in Kananga, a small and rather isolated village in Kuningan not far from Cirebon, at a siang-malam organ performance by Dian Nada Big Band from Kabupaten Cirebon. Organ, a scaled-down version of dangdut, has expanded in size in recent years. The organ (i.e. synthesizer) still dominates -- setting the tempo through a drum track, filling in musical parts, using exciting house techniques ("Everybody!") -- but Dian Nada's band included also two guitars, a sax, a bamboo flute player (who pulled out flutes of various sizes during the show), a kendang drummer and his assistant who played the cymbal, and occasionally a tambourine, played by the group's leader Sinarudiyan (aka Dian). The shows featured singing by Dian Nada's regular stock of 5 female singers (who appeared to be in their teens and 20s), a few songs by Dian himself, plus sets by Wulan Affandi, a "guest artist" invited by the tuan hajat especially for the show.

This was an intimate, rather low key family affair celebrating a wedding, with an audience of at most 150 people (and sometimes much less). In the afternoon, family members all danced on stage handing out stacks of 2000 rupiah bills to the singers. The newly married couple did a couples dance, holding hands, complete with spins etc. Videographers and photographers went up on the small stage and took pictures. The language  of the songs and much of the banter between the musicians and singers was in Cirebon Javanese, which the Sundanese audience could comprehend only partially. But this didn't seem to matter much. The food was unusually tasty for a hajatan, but wasn't offered in huge portions. (I was offered only one meal during the time I was there and got to snack on only one koci before they all disappeared.) People were very respectful of my presence, and didn't ask many questions even when I was on stage.

My host at this event was Wulan Affandi, a lecturer at ISIF-Cirebon who is just about to start an MA at Universitas Indonesia, and who heads her own group as well called Wulan Entertainment which offers both organ concerts and also full tarling shows with drama and lawakan acts. Wulan has been performing as a professional penyanyi organ from her early teens and is one of perhaps a few dozen singers in Cirebon and Indramayu who are known to audiences through their VCD and DVD albums (still referred to here as "kaset"). Wulan has her own record label MB Records and a small studio in her house that is run by her father. She releases normally one album a year, sometimes under MB Records but sometimes under larger labels. I had a chance to speak with Wulan at some length about the world of "tarling modern" (modernized tarling), a term she and other artists sometimes use to describe this fusion between tarling dangdut and organ.

Her "team," as she refers to her group, is managed by an intermediary, who contracts performers, rents equipment (sound, panggung etc). None of the performers are directly contracted by Wulan herself - though she does bring along a support team to all performances including a driver (who also is a radio presenter, works for MB Records, and runs a sanggar tari), a dresser, a woman who roams around the audience hawking Wulan's albums (priced at 5000  and 10,000 rupiah a piece) out of a plastic bag and a young man from Jakarta who has been with Wulan for the last year and a half.

In conversation, Wulan expressed her dissatisfaction with video piracy and overly formulaic video clips, and spoke about the difficulties in juggling her studies with running a tarling modern group. She is soft-spoken and very respectful with everyone off-stage, and confident and clearly enjoys herself when on stage.

I've been to organ shows in the past, of course, but always at a remove as a spectator. Wulan brought me on stage to engage in a short dialogue with her, and sit with the musicians and singers. What I enjoyed very much about the shows in Kananga was the chance to observe up close the world of the singer - stopping on the way to the show to buy from a kaki lima the latest albums of rival singers to learn recent hits on the car's small DVD player; the long process of putting on makeup and costumes; the enormous amount singers sweat on stage (Wulan apologised for smelling of sweat when her crew took her picture with me after her afternoon show); the intimate environment of the little on-stage green room/bullpen where the singers sit before and after they go on stage (drinking water, texting, consulting agendas, cooling down, re-applying makeup, gossiping).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pentas Wayang Rumba

Last night (16-17 August) I performed in a combination of Javanese, Indonesian and English  "A Dalang in Search of Wayang", my post-traditional  solo wayang, for the first time at ISIF Cirebon in a student-organised event called Pentas Wayang Rumba. It was part of a triple-bill along with short wayang performances by my friends Doddie (Darmakusuma Nyalar, with a pop band, powerpoint projections and carboard wayang figures) and Purjadi (Agamaneng Manusa, with a scaled-down gamelan accompanying him). In between our performances there was time for commentary and discussion - much of it quite expert. The audience was fairly small (under 100) but elect - with representatives from many of Cirebon's major religious institutions.

Purjadi was initially reluctant to perform in this setting but left with all smiles - recognising that his performance was greatly appreciated and that he was introducing his version of wayang to a new audience. ISIF's rector, in a brief comment after Purjadi performed, said that he would like to offer Purjadi a lectureship at ISIF- only half joking. Purjadi argued that wayang is not endangered - it is only in urban contexts like the city of Cirebon where wayang lacks audiences- when he performed in the alun-alun of Kasepuhan once he could count spectators on the fingers of his hands. In the countryside, wayang is still in rude health. A text I received regarding my own performance said that I had succeeded in "menggugah presepsi teman2 muda tentang wayang."  Events like Pentas Wayang Rumba act as bridges between the rural and the urban, the local and the international. They are not frequent in Cirebon - but much more common elsewhere in Indonesia.

A short report can be read at http://www.nu.or.id/a,public-m,dinamic-s,detail-ids,44-id,39325-lang,id-c,nasional-t,Peringati+Kemerdekaan++Mahasiswa+Gelar+Wayangan-.phpx

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Golek Taboos

My studies of wayang golek cepak with Ki Dhalang Calim in Pegagan Kidul continue. I have been trying to set up a performance for the week of 19 August at the end of my stay here in Cirebon.... so far without much luck. The process has, however, been interesting.

I went today with my friend the wayang kulit puppeteer Purjadi today to the village of Pekantingan where he is performing on Friday at an annual graveside unjungan rite to see if I could perform wayang golek instead of wayang kulit in the siang show preceding Purjadi's night-time show. We met with the kuwu, a sympathetic village headman whose small sitting room was decorated with Islamic texts and a modern lukisan kaca of Gatotkaca. He said that wayang golek was absolutely taboo in Pekantingan- and had been since he was a small boy. The story was that the stage collapsed at a show in Pekantingan many years ago and a vow was made never to sponsor golek again in the village. The kuwu said that golek summons the spirits of the ancestors and that any variance from the 'correct' story would cause their wrath. Sandiwara has the same stories as golek, but is not a true representation like golek and so does not have magical repercussions. He pointed out that the taboo against golek was not the only taboo in Pekantingan - it also had taboos against certain crops, for similar historical reasons.

Purjadi mentioned to the kuwu that other villages - including Kerandon - had similar taboos against golek. The kuwu said that Kerandon, the location of the ancient Cirebon Girang kingdom, was united with Pekantingan by shared ancient customs and connections to the sultanate - Pekantingan's Muludan celebration  for example falls on the 12th day of the month, the same day that Muludan is celebrated in the royal courts. Purjadi then gave a list of other reasons why golek is taboo. In santri villages, golek figures are said to be statues of people - forbidden according to orthodox Muslims - in contrast to wayang kulit which is just a picture of people. In the village of Cengkoak people said that they simply disliked golek for aesthetic reasons - "Even if someone donated a performance of golek, we would not accept it, let alone if we had to pay for it." The kuwu said that this was probably just an excuse - and that in Cengkoak like in Pekantingan there were likely ritual reasons for why golek is not performed there.

Golek's heyday is long past in Cirebon. While puppeteers in the past were commonly engaged to perform at hajatan, almost all performances today are in graveyards, and these are decreasing annually. The repertoire is shrinking too it seems. Figures are still named after Menak and Panji characters, but only stories set in Cirebon since the arrival of Islam are today performed. "Too distant," say audiences about Menak stories, according to Calim. Purjadi says that golek simply has not kept up with the times - its lagu prang are monotone, the characters are not known to audiences (unlike wayang kulit or Sundanese wayang golek, with its iconic figures), puppeteers are old and not good storytellers.

Call me old-fashioned - I like wayang golek cepak and its stories and would like to see the form maintained in Cirebon. But I see that it faces formidable challenges.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sanggar Mimi Rasinah

I went today by car to Indramayu in the company of my friends Pak Katura and Mas Opan to visit the sanggar of the late Mimi Rasinah, a topeng "maestro" who was "discovered" by Endo Suanda and friends around 1995 and promoted nationally and internationally until her death in 2010 at at the age of 80. At the head of the sanggar is Rasinah's grand-daughter Aerli who Rasinah selected to be her heir and Aerli's husband who graduated from the dance department of STSI Bandung and is originally from Arjawinangun. The sanggar has been well supported by grants from both local and international sources and appears to be very active with daily topeng dance classes for children of various ages, a gamelan group that practices regularly and a number of carvers who are kept busy carving souvenir keychains with topeng and sobra (retailing at 5000/keychain- these were displayed near the entrance to the sanggar).

We attended the Sunday morning dance class under Aerli's direction which was accompanied today by live gamelan. Students (all girls) ranged in age from 3 to late teens and executed en masse two topeng dances without masks or costumes. There were about 25 or so students - almost of all whom were accompanied by their mothers who ringed the walls of the studio. The studio had a high bamboo roof, new floor tiles and a big mirror on one wall. Posters of performances by Aerli and Rasinah were prominently displayed. Also present were a group of 6 or 8 KKN students from UPI Bandung who were on their second to last day of the work experience scheme. They had been active in trying to establish Pekandangan as a desa budaya, working with both the sanggar and also berokan groups. Their major achievement was planting 100 mahogany trees in a nearby graveyard- which they told me was a symbol of natural beauty and also endurance. The students cam from different departments - none of them related to the arts. This was the first UPI group to do KKN in Pekandangan, and they are working on a blog to present their findings and accomplishments. A rep from the KKN group said a few words and both Opan and I were also asked to say something. The sanngar is looking to reproduce the costume that Rasinah wore in performances (now rare) and Pak Katura volunteered to assist in reproducing both the beautiful blue-and-white batik skirt and a slendang juwana.

The visit had a very reverent atmosphere - Opan and I both spoke with great respect for Rasinah, the children kissed our hands when they exited, the UPI students made slight bows to acknowledge us etc. Still, it is good to see that there is an interest in topeng - in contrast, when asked, none of the children or mothers admitted to have ever seen a wayang performance.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Berokan Season

It's berokan "season" now in Cirebon - when in villages around Gunungjati children and teenagers parade through the kampung collecting money. This is an extension of sort of obrog-obrogan - musical groups that parade through the kampung during the fasting month to wake up villagers for the pre-fast meal (saur) and then collect money on the day of Hari Raya. Some musical groups start parading in the late afternoon 2 or even 3 weeks before the fast ends - a practice that my friend the batik boss Pak Katura referred to (only half jokingly) as "illegal". The berokan groups follow this practice.

On the way to pick up my daughter who is studying batik this month with Pak Katura I passed 3 such berokan groups- two in the fishing village of Mertasinga just north of Gunungjati (I took a wrong turn there by mistake) and one in the village of Sarabau (pictured above). The Sarabau group had two rather spectacular berokan accompanied by a small orchestra of keyboard, gongs, ketuk and kecrek. A young boy, perhaps 8 years old, marched ahead of the group collecting money in a bucket. Most of the performers seemed to be between 10 and 20 years old. It created quite a lively atmosphere. I stopped to take a few quick pictures sitting on my motorcycle and donated all the change in my pocket to the group.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dress Rehearsal for the Festival Kraton Nusantara

Yesterday afternoon (8 August) I attended the Gladhi Resik or Dress Rehearsal for West Java's delegation to the Kraton Festival Nusantara. This is a biennial celebration of Indonesia's courtly cultures - pomp and circumstance, humourless speeches on the greatness of tradition, occasionally interesting art works. This year's festival is being hosted by the small court of Buton in Sulawesi and falls on 1-4 September. West Java's tourism department, which is sponsoring the 5 'kraton' of West Java (some of which are not proper kraton though are referred to as such), arranged to hold the Dress Rehearsal 3 weeks prior to departure to fit their schedule and work around the long holiday of Idul Fitri. I thus got to see a long procession made up of these 5 'kraton' (Kasepuhan, Kanoman, Kacirebonan, Keprabonan, Sumedang Larang) from the the outer gate of the Kraton Kasepuhan up to the kraton itself, followed by representative dances from each of the royal houses at Kasepuhan's Pagelaran (a large pendopo which was built for the festival kraton held in Cirebon in the 1990s).

The quality varied considerably. We saw 3 versions of topeng Klana (talk about a lack of imagination) and sendratari-like dances from Kacirebonan and Sumedang. Gamelan playing ranged from spirited to lackadaisical. Some of the dancers were highly trained professionals (Sujana Arja's son Inu was one of the topeng dancers), others rank beginners. The sultans themselves were all in attendance dressed in their formal kraton garb. There were formal speeches - a rep from the tourism office spoke about how putting together the 5 royal houses as one 'packet' would show West Java in a more spectacular way.

The afternoon concluded with the handing out of charity baskets to the poor (who also attended the dances and procession) and a buka bersama meal.

A reporter from RRI interviewed me about my thoughts about Indonesia culture today and specifically the role the kraton plays in contemporary society.I tried to be as diplomatic in my responses.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

ISIF Reception for Student Delegation from Bamberg, Germany

I've noted in past blogs some of the many changes that have swept through Cirebon in recent years - stores, malls, technologies etc. There are also a number of new educational institutions, the most interesting perhaps being the Institut Studi Islam Fahmina (http://www.isif.ac.id/) which is located not far from the state Islamic college (IAIN) on the outskirts of town.

I have been in email contact with a number of the people at ISIF over the years, and know some of the lecturers and students quite well. It is a young institution - the first class college class matriculated only 4 years ago and the yayasan which sponsors it was founded only 6 years ago - but has established an important presence mainly via the internet as a centre for liberal Islamic thinking, research and debate.

I visited the campus for the first time this afternoon (7 August 2012) in the company of my old buddy the pelukis kaca and local historian Opan Safari (who lectures in cultural studies at ISIF) for a buka puasa bersama with a group of students from the University of Bamberg. The event had a number of formal speeches, informal discussions between students and staff, and attracted a range of interesting characters - local budayawan from Cirebon, a novelist and short story writer from Jakarta who had earlier delivered a writing workshop to pesantren students, a Catholic religious leader, a kepercayaan religious leader (wearing an iket) etc. Some of the women present wore jilbab and other head coverings, but by no means all of them, and the students I spoke to were articulate and keen to both listen and express themselves. Opan explained to me later that most are on full scholarship - ISIF employs them as research assistants for projects and pays their fees out of this. ISIF is also supported by a number of private patrons.

I enjoyed speaking with a number of the folk from both Germany and ISIF - a German professor who is making it a point to include Indonesia in the Islamic studies curriculum (his own PhD was on Nabi Khidir stories around the Islamic world), a student doing an MA on interfaith dialogue who conducted research in a Jewish institution in Antwerp, ISIF's rector who did his PhD on Koranic interpretation etc.

There was also a college band made up of Sundanese drum, guitar, terbangan and other assorted instruments that played in interludes- both Western pop and Indonesian pop music. My friend Doddie, another pelukis kaca who is currently an ISIF student, said that this same band has been accompanying short wayang kertas performances he has been giving in recent months.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Wayang golek cepak studies

I am in Cirebon currently - my daughter Hannah is study batik with Mang Katura in Trusmi and I am using the opportunity to do some practical studies of wayang golek cepak, a rod puppet theatre tradition found here an in a number of neighbouring kabupaten on Java's north coast (Indramayu, Brebes, Tegal). This is an endangered art - though the dalang Ki Enthus Susmono from Tegal has had some recent success in reviving it under the label of Wayang Santri.  There are only about 4 or 5 practising dalang in Cirebon -- 3 of them who live in Pegagan, where I am studying. Stories are mostly set in the time of the wali and focus on conflicts between the forces of Islam under Sunan Jati and Hindu kingdoms such as Galuh and Pajajaran. There are also a number of stories set in more recent times (Raden Untung, Prang Kedongdong) and the occasional Menak and Damarwulan story.

I've been working on a single lakon - Arya Kemuning - which was the first story studied by my teacher Dalang Calim - who is one of the two sons of Dalang Marta performing professionally. Marta was perhaps the most famous dalang golek in Cirebon in the 1990s when I was doing my doctoral fieldwork on wayang kulit, and so while this is the first time I've had a chance to work with him, I've known members of his family and his musicians for some time now.

I am enjoying so far the experience of studying a lot - and am making quick progress. The basic storytelling techniques are identical with wayang kulit, though there are a different set of sulukan to learn and also a different sort of lagu prang that accompanies battle scenes. The characters though all new follow wayang kulit patterns - so Arya Kemuning the main character in the story I am doing has the same style of speech and many of the characteristics of Bambang Sumantri from the Lokapala cycle; Arya Kiban has the same speech and movement style as Klana/Rahwana; Jaya Ningrat, the  king of Galuh, follows the patterns of Duryudana while his advisor Sanghyang Sutem is basically a Drona type; Sunan Jati speaks in the style of Samiaji. I have been working daily with Calim and a saron player (who is himself from a puppeteer family).

Calim was initially sceptical about my being able to get the hang of wayang golek. A number of other dalang in Cirebon have attempted to make the transfer from wayang kulit to wayang golek without much success. Haji Mansyur tried to study golek for 2 years and failed, Bahani also made a stab at performing but could not get beyond a basic level and gave it up. I have the advantage though of having had a week of lessons with Asep Sunandar Sunarya (in 2003 at the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre), a number of lessons with Dewanto (in 2009 in Yogyakarta) and lots of time playing around with golek puppets in my own collection. So I have some understanding of basic manipulation techniques already.

My first lesson with Calim on 2 August involved selecting the puppets, seeing the story demonstrated in an abbreviated form by Calim and trying out a few sulukan. In my second lesson on 3 August I made a stab at doing the whole story myself. I made numerous mistakes of course, and had some trouble with language (it's been more than 2 years since I've performed in Cirebon Javanese) but was able to get through it with enough success that Calim said I was about as good as his own dalang awan. I was so excited that I made a wrong turn on my way back and rode north on my rented motorcycle to Karangampel instead of south to Cirebon! In my third lesson I repeated the lakon. I was more free in my presentation - making some alterations in plot details (not all of which Calim condoned), incorporating topical references with jibes to Calim and the saron player etc. I was also coaxed by the saron player to improvise a dialogue between him and Lamsijan (the local equivalent of Cepot). This was pretty thrilling again to me - the clown Lamsijan is still a new character for me but I am getting the hang of how to perform with him quickly.

I am aiming to do a wayang awan performance of Arya Kemuning at the end of my stay. Pretty ambitious but Calim thinks this is achievable.

Gerard Mosterd and Sumber Cipta

I am in Indonesia now for 4 weeks before a workshop on Asian avant-gardes at NUS in Singapore. I spent two days in Jakarta before going off to Cirebon. The main focus of my time in Jakarta was to use two libraries , Perpustakaan Nasional and Pusat Sastra HB Jassin, to collect some sources on 1940s theatre for my book-in-progress on modernity and the performing arts of Indonesia. I wasn't able to access the sources I needed from Perpustakaan Nasional - the books are on the shelves, but are not catalogued and so inaccessible - while the folk at HB Jassin were courteous and efficient, and even pointed me to sources not on my list that they thought relevant to my research. In addition, I also made a visit to the head office of Asosiasi Tradisi Lisan to discuss future collaborations with the association's head Ibu Pudentia, visited the bookstore at TIM, paid a short visit to the Museum Nasional with my daughter Hannah (it closed early for Ramadhan so we couldn't get into the galleries, but had a good look at the sculptures on permanent display) and spent an evening together with choreographer and producer Gerard Mosterd, who is in the process of creating a new dance piece for Sumber Cipta, Indonesia's most famous ballet company.

Gerard is Dutch of Indonesian descent and has extensive experience as a dancer and choreographer in the European contemporary dance world. His focus in recent years with his production company Kantor Pos has been in European-Asian exchanges - work which has involved him collaborating with some of Indonesia's best known tradition-based and modern artists. He has worked with Sumber Cipta a number of times over the last decade or so, teaching classes and such. The piece he is making now will be part of a triple bill by Sumber Cipta to be presented at the Jakarta dance festival in September. Gerard was supposed to wrap up his work on the piece in July but has decided to stay on through August as rehearsals have not been as smooth as he has hoped due mostly to absences. 

The piece he is creating (I am not sure if it has a title already) is an exploration of freedom - encouraging the dancers to move away from the rigid postures and fixed moves that are customary in Indonesia, whether in ballet or in traditional dance. He is working against rather than with the grain of the music he has selected (mostly Bach, which he says is more accessible). Behind the piece is a concern for the politics of expression, and recent court cases that have stifled freedom of speech (particularly a case regarding an atheist blogger). 

At the rehearsal I attended on 30 July at Sumber Cipta's dance studio in south Jakarta, Gerard spoke with his dancers in English. But he struck me as very much a participant in the local dance scene - not a curious outsider, but someone involved in an intimate way with both the company and the larger dance world it is situated in. After watching the rehearsal, he also invited me to offer feedback to him and the company- thus bringing me into the process as well.