Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cirebonese History and Culture Seminar at IAIN Syekh Nurjati Cirebon

Today, at the invitation of  Didin Nurul Rosyidin, I offered a seminar on Cirebonese history and culture to the history department of IAIN Syekh Nurjati Cirebon, the state institute for Islamic studies, before a meeting with Didin and his colleagues to discuss possible future research collaborations. The seminar was well attended, mostly by students, but there were as well a few members of the outside research community present, including Dr Bambang, a veterinarian and amateur historian, and Mustaqim, an independent heritage expert. I sweated profusely through the long introduction (with numerous communal prayers), my talk and the intense q&a session that followed, not because I felt under any pressure but because the room was not air conditioned. (We were all generously supplied though with a bottle of Aqua as well as a snack box and at the speaker's table there were imported oranges wrapped individually in plastic.)

My talk, which I titled Seni dan Budaya Cirebon dari Zaman ke Zaman, argued that Cirebon's history involved the invention of tradition through cultural production that became particularly intense starting in the 1960s. Cultural actors had long before inflated the importance of Cirebon under Sunan Gunung Jati, and a minor node in the Indian Ocean trading routes was reconfigured as the puser bumi, or centre of the world. During the last 45 years or so, Cirebon culture has become figured as a discreet object to be taught in schools, invoked at official occasions and monumentalized. 

The questions after probed details of my talk, and also expressed a curiosity about where I came from and what drew me and continues to draw me to Cirebon. Some present were interested in what the government should do for Cirebonese culture. How to reconcile the mysticism of Cirebonese chronicle literature with Western historiography? Where does wayang come from and is it possible to return to an ideal of wayang propagating moral messages that is not contaminated by humour? Lots of other areas are characterised by cultural mixture, so why would Cirebon alone use the trope of mixture for its ancient name (Caruban)? 

The most intense discussion came up around Sunyaragi, a ruin of a water palace on the outskirts of town. I quoted an English historical source that stated this was built as a place of recreation in the early nineteenth century. This was heavily contested by a number of participants, who were convinced that this was a more ancient site for pious meditation and the training of soldiers etc. I was prepared of course for such reactions, and spoke about how the meaning of Sunyaragi had been continually revised and its appearance changed over the decades, quoting the work of Sharon Siddique, a report from the Dinas Purbakala about how the archaeological service transformed the ruins into a Taman Arkeologi theme park, the building of the institution of the panggung terbuka and the change in its atmosphere from a place of quiet to a busy site next to the Jalan Bypass. Not everyone was satisfied though with my answers, and one participant made it clear that I should leave archaeology to the archaeologists....

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Tall Man from Sumedang in Cirebon

Today (25 December) I had my first real 'free' afternoon of my trip here. I had originally planned to go out to  East Cirebon with some friends to meet a dalang pantun and a dalang wayang golek cepak and taste some of the local delicacies (a typical combination of scholarship and culinary tourism for me and my friends here in Cirebon) but my wayang golek cepak teacher was insistent that we hold our practice during the day time rather than at night and I had to cancel the outing, leaving me with time on my hands.

So after my practice wrapped up and the afternoon downpour had dwindled to a drizzle  I wandered over to Pasar Pagi in search of some DVDs. The DVD store, it turned out, had moved to Pasar Balong, but to compensate for this I came across a carnival side show that was playing on the top floor of the Pasar Pagi market. Unfortunately I had no camera with me, so am unable to provide a photo.

But briefly the show was performed by three men (a fourth man, a juggler and acrobat, reportedly was sick and had to return to Bandung). The MC, described in promotions ( as a humorous MC with a thousand voices, gave an Islamic framing for the 'spectakuler' show, saying how the first man Adam was 35 meters in height in order to stand a chance against the gigantic wild beasts of his time. People have gradually shrunk over time, and now the typical height for Indonesian men is 160cm or so, while Westerners are 10cm taller on average. Sometimes though, a freak of nature is born.

Cue the entrance of 'Jaguar', a Tall Man from the foothills of Gunung Tampomas, billed as being 220cm in height, 'plus or minus'. The MC interviewed Mr Jaguar about his family life, diet, clothes and the like. His father and grandfather were both unusually tall, apparently, as is one of Jaguar's two children. (The MC joked that it was hard for Jaguar to have found a wife, as women must have feared their first night with him.) His black robe with red fringe needed 5 meters of black cloth and 1 meter of red cloth; steel-toed shoes have to be specially ordered; he eats two plates of rice 4 or 5 times a  day as he is now on a diet.

This was followed by some standard magic tricks by a young magician, some of them done in 'kolaborasi' with Jaguar, and some juggling by Jaguar. Jaguar's last trick was to juggle fire and put the fire out in his mouth. The magician also requested audience participation - a young boy blindfolded him and then balloons were placed under the boy's arms and between his legs which were popped with a knife wielded by the blindfolded magician. There were the normal jokes about the chance of losing the family jewels and the like. The child's mother and family laughed hilariously at this prank.

The show took about 30 minutes in all, and the audience who had all been sitting on the floor (we were assured that it has been mopped clean) filed off, many to the adjacent food court for dinner.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Visit to Swara Insani and Al-Mutawally

I am here in Cirebon with the primary intention of scoping out possible new collaborations with two higher education institutions, Institut Studi Islam Fahmina (ISIF or the Fahmina Institute for Islamic Studies) and the state college for Islamic studies, IAIN Syekh Nurjati. In addition to on-campus discussions and meetings, lecturers associated with both institutions have taken the opportunity to bring me out to institutions outside of the city to participate in a number of events of cultural interest.

Yesterday (23 December) I went by motorbike to the village of Mayung, where I met up with ISIF lecturer Opan Safari (one of my closest friends in Cirebon) and my former typist Santoso and visited the private FM radio station Swara Insani, where I was interviewed in Cirebon Javanese about my academic interests in Cirebon. I also used the opportunity to plug my upcoming wayang golek cepak performance in Pekandangan, Indramayu on New Year's Eve. The focus of Radio Insani, as the name suggests, is on Islamic education, and I also spoke about the close connection of Islam and traditional culture in Cirebon, and the importance of supporting local arts and culture.

After, we stopped by a multi-purpose educational centre run by the same foundation that owns the radio station. On Sundays, this is being used for a lukisan kaca course under the tutelage of my friend Opan. Opan said that a number of the students showed real talent. He was planning on doing the course in three phases. During the first two phases the students would receive sketches and execute these on glass, while in the third they would make their own sketches.

Today (24 December) I got picked up by my old friend Didin Nurul Rosidin at my hotel and taken out to the pesantren he runs, al-Mutawally, located in Kabupaten Kuningan, in the hills over Cirebon, not far from Pasar Cilimus. I first got to know Didin when he was doing an MA in Islamic studies at Leiden. I helped him unofficially with his MA research on Madrais, and he hosted the sandiwara actor-manager Wartaka when he was doing a residency at Leiden, working with me on sandiwara history and the play Pusaka Setan Kober. 

The pesantren in Kuningan has about 300 students, boy and girls, and was founded about 100 years ago by Didin's great grandfather or possibly great-great grandfather. It went under in the 1950s after the founder's death and then was revived by Didin's father in the early 1990s. Didin is a lecturer in Islamic history at IAIN, and heads up the Centre for Culture and History there, but also devotes much of his time to running the pesantren and making sure the students have both an excellent religious as well as secular education. I was asked to do a short talk in English to the students and spoke with them about santri lelana, a talk I gave to the IAIN student society in 1994 about the internet and the importance of networking and contributing to society. 

I was entertained in turn by drum playing by the boys (which greeted my arrival and escorted me out when I left the main reception hall), short dramatic skits in English by the girls, poetry readings by the boys accompanied by guitar and the singing of salawatan accompanied by hand drums and tambourines (see above). The lead singer in the salawatan group had a very pleasing voice. I learned that she also could sing with degung. Her father, who was wearing a biker leather jacket when he came to pick her up after the event (it was the last day of term and many students were going home), was obviously quite proud of her.

While the younger students might not have understood much of what I had to say, they were well behaved, and responded well to a summary that Didin offered at the end. Some of the questions asked by students were very intelligent. These included:
  • How to deal with stage nerves when performing
  • What it means to perform theatre in a style that was originally foreign
  • How can one do theatre when men and women can't perform together
  • Is it necessary to get a BA in Indonesia before studying abroad
  • What can theatre and drama do for the conflict in Palestine
  • What drew me to studying drama
  • What is more important in education, skills or opportunities
  • How did I get promoted to professor
In my talk and answers to their questions, I encouraged students to do voluntary work, apply themselves in what they do, maintain blogs (a number of them already do, and Didin has an excellent blog himself) and learn how to use email. 

On the drive back, Didin spoke about how he hoped to acquire a gamelan degung for the pesantren. He said that there are many stereotypes about pesantren and that performing arts not normally associated with Islam such as guitar and degung could help to create bridges and mutual understanding with the surrounding community. I encouraged him to continue in his efforts. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gatotgaca Nyungging by Purjadi

Last night (22 December) at the invitation of Purjadi, my friend and former assistant, I went out to Desa Leuwilaja (Kecamatan Sindangwangi,  Kabupaten Majalengka), a small village just outside of the town of Jatitujuh, which was celebrating its annual Sedekah Bumi ceremony. This is an agrarian area which produces some tasty fruit, including durian. People coming from Bandung sometimes make a detour through this area to taste the local delicacies, and the main road from Cirebon to Jatitujuh is lined with fruit stands.

Sedekah Bumi in Majalengka are celebrated in style, and this was no exception. Not only was there an impressive range of gantungan hanging from the stage roof, including locally-crafted numerous containers that would be distributed among the musicians at the end of the show, the performance also featured the two most popular sinden in the Cirebon region, Itih and Iwi, who dressed in matching green outfits and sat on several layers of pillows through the show, like queens on their thrones.

The song requests started nearly as soon as Iti and Iwi arrived on stage and were constant until I left, fulfilled in medleys of four or five songs. The play, Purjadi warned me in advance, would take second place to the musical attraction on this occasion. The Bupati, who hailed from the nearby kecamatan of Ligung, where Javanese is also spoken and wayang kulit enjoyed, was scheduled to attend, but cancelled at the last minute as he had to appear before the governor. The audience was extremely attentive throughout - Purjadi commented to one of the musicians that if it wasn't for the fact it was so dark we would see a sea of faces around the stage. There were also a good range of vendors selling noodle soup, batagor, tahu goreng, bapao and the like.

As Purjadi predicted, there was not much drama on the screen last night. The play was Gatotgaca Nyungging (Gatotgaca Illustrated), an old branch story. In Purjadi's telling an ogre king's daughter is desired by many suitors and a sayembara or contest is established - whoever can defeat the king's minister will gain her hand. Before the contest has concluded, however, the princess tells her father to call it off as there is already someone special in her life. Her father the king asks what his name is and she says she doesn't know for she only had glimpsed him a dream. She draws the man of her dream (see photo above) and the king says he will now have to institute a new contest - whoever can bring this man to the court will receive a certain award. The dream man, as the title suggests, is Gatotgaca, who is also the object of other desires - specifically a descendent of Naga Percona who seeks revenge for his killing. At the time I left at 1.15am, the battle between the descendent of Naga Percona and Gatotgaca and the punakawan clown servants seemed about to start.

Purjadi, as always, did a fine job in singing sulukan and the puppet voices, and his puppet dancing has improved considerably in recent years, with tight coordination with the kendang player. Battle scenes were formulaic, however, and there was far less topical commentary than usual. He seemed less than inspired. Perhaps he felt that people weren't looking at him but at the sinden. I was tired and restless, and though I enjoyed playing with my iPad and displaying pictures I was taking to the musicians, sinden and spectators, in the end I left at roughly 1.15 am, more than 2 hours before the end of the show.

There were still lights on in the durian stands on the main road nearby, and I was tempted to stop by and try some. But I went back to my hotel instead.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Taman Budaya Yogyakarta: Malam Penganten and Wayang Orang Panca Budaya

Yesterday (20 December 2012) was my final night in Yogyakarta. I spent much of the day at Gadjah Mada University, meeting with colleagues and students and discussing possible future collaborations. At night, I had the opportunity of seeing not one but two shows at Taman Budaya Yogyakarta, the cultural centre in the middle of town.

The first show was a production of Minang writer Motinggo Busye's classic play Malam Penganten di Bukit Kera (1963; 'Honeymoon at Monkey Mountain') by a group of senior Yogyakarta actors, all of whom had been active in theatre in the 60s, 70s and 80s. The play briefly concerns a honeymoon of a couple in the house of the husband’s grandmother in a remote village. The wife is nervous about being in the countryside and agitated by the grandmother, an old crone obsessed with taking revenge on the murderers of her ex-husband. The husband is indifferent to her needs. Shots ring out and the husband says that his grandmother must have shot monkeys raiding her garden. The grandmother tells him to bring in the corpse, and it turns out to be a man, the same man she had promised to kill. The acting in this production was in the overwrought sandiwara style that ultimately goes back to komedi stambul, with huge gestures, declamations, illustrations of words with hands and so on. Everything, including the set and music and lighting, was polished and professionally delivered, but even though this sort of theatre is of interest to me as a researcher, I found this extended one act play hard to enjoy. The audience was small, and at the curtain call at the end there were nearly more people on stage than in the auditorium. Applause was lukewarm.

I then hopped over to TBY’s main hall, where a wayang wong production by WO Panca Budaya was under way. The goro-goro clown scene was playing when I entered, and the large audience chuckling merrily at the jokes of the clown servants. The play was Babad Alas Wisamarta (The Clearing of the Wisamarta Forest) starring the famous comedienne Yati Pesek in the role of Arimbi. The play was free of charge with invitations (which were easily available to fans from the TBY office and other distribution channels). TBY has been sponsoring a significant number of wayang wong and kethoprak shows at the end of this year- apparently there is money left over in the budget and these forms are easy to organise and always attract a crowd, especially when a well-known personage like Mbak Yati is involved.

Panca Budaya did a fine job in this play and was clearly in the audience’s favour. When Arjuna entered with a dead mike, Gareng made this into a comic bit, first circling around Arjuna so that bits of Arjuna’s dialogue were picked up by his own mike, then instructing Semar to sit next to his lord so that Arjuna could borrow his mike and so on. The fight between Arjuna and not one but two Cakil actor-dancers was masterfully executed. There was much hilarity after Kresna transformed the ugly Arimbi into a beautiful woman so that she might marry the powerful warrior Bima. Her younger brother and comic side kick, who earlier had mocked her for her ugliness and pretended to be Bima to spite her, fell for her and said that if Bima would not have her, he would.  The closing battle between the five Pendhawa and their doppelgangers was impressively choreographed, and the scene in which they merge, and the jungle transforms into the beautiful palace of Ngamarta and Yudhistira mounts the throne was wonderfully theatrical. A nice ending for my brief stay in the gudeg city. 

Pesta Boneka #3 (Day 3)

Wednesday 19 December was the third and final day of the third edition of the Pesta Boneka, a festival of puppet theatre being held this year at Padepokan Seni Bagong Kussudiardjo in Bantul, just south of the city of Yogyakarta.

It was a busy day for me. I started the day with a workshop with Drs. Suyadi (see photo above), best known to Indonesian viewers as Pak Raden, the creator of the famous si Unyil franchise. The 80-year-old puppeteer and illustrator Drs Suyadi had given a performance the night before, and while the workshop was scheduled to start at 9am he arrived only at 10am with his entourage. The nominal theme for the workshop was (in English) The Making of si Unyil, which involved participants sculpting a puppet head from papier mache.

Suyadi, who studied fine arts at ITB in the 1950s and then went to Paris in the early 1960s to study film animation, opened the workshop by explaining some of the principles of his glove puppets. Puppets, unlike dolls, are intended to convey character and used in stories, they cannot just look cute. All are intended to portray distinct and contrasting characters - with their own visual design, style of movement, voice and mannerisms. He compared his work to wayang kulit and did an impression of an exchange between Arjuna and Cakil, saying that wayang puppeteers would instantly know how to voice characters from their appearance. (I mentioned potehi later, and Suyadi enthused that this Chinese glove puppet form was the origin of all glove puppetry.)

The puppet heads are made from papier mache which is sculpted over a clay mould which is covered with vaseline. About 10 layers of paper are used. Then after the papier mache has dried (which takes at least a day) the head is cut in half (back and front), the clay taken out, ear made. A tube is inserted into the head. Then the head is laminated and coloured. Real human hair shouldn't be used - It would be frightening (mengerikan) to juxtapose the puppet as a dead thing (barang mati) with hair, which is a living thing (barang hidup). The hands, made from flannel and stuffed with cotton, are sewn to the costume. No padding is used so there are no fat puppets or thin puppets, but they appear to have different sizes based on movement and posture. You should have 4 fingers per hand not 5. Five would be too 'busy' (ribut). The middle finger is inserted into the head, the pinky into one arm, the thumb into the other.

Suyadi and his assistant spoke amicably with workshop puppeteers as we turned to make puppet heads using a simplified version of the method above. (No clay.)

At the end, participants received a book on puppetry (teater boneka) that Suyadi had illustrated which was published in 1970. One of the scripts mentions his character si Unyil, and has a drawing which resembles this beloved tv character. He also handed out a guide to copyright and a collection of stories about legal issues. Suyadi explained that the rights to si Unyil were no longer his. They belonged to Persusahaan Filem Negara, the national film outfit, and that these had been sold to private tv station Trans7 without consulting Suyadi, or any fee. Suyadi had mounted a legal case against PFN so that si Unyil might 'return to his father.' He said that he was not bitter about the case, nor did he want people's pity, but he wanted to issue a warning to creators of art (perupa) that they should be careful about copyright and make plans for rights well in advance. Suyadi appeared in full costume throughout the workshop, and was even wearing his false mustache and eyebrows when I ran into him and his party eating lunch later at Kedai Kopi.

Shortly after this workshop, I saw a 20 minute performance by the String Theatre, a young English marionette company, of their variety show The Marionette Insect Circus (see photo above). This was a charming little show with trick figures and old-time jazz. It preceded a string puppet making workshop for children, which was mostly attended by local kids of elementary school age. The kids were well behaved and attentive throughout.

In the evening, there were two more shows to attend. These were preceded by a spectacular dance accompanied by recorded gamelan. A group of boys did a well-executed monkey dance, dressed in a variant of wayang wong costume. Then dozens of children ranging in age from roughly 3 to 12 emerged in animal costumes of all sorts and did little turns. Clearly the parents were charmed.

This masquerade was followed by a short tabletop puppet show by a young Venezuelan stop motion artist and film maker named Angela  Stempel, who has been living in New York for the last 6 years. Stempel's work was based on a folk tale from Uruguay and followed the journey a man who is bitten by a poisonous snake and travels down a river to seek help. In the background film was projected that provided a setting and sometimes a commentary on the action. She was assisted in the building and performing of the show by a member of Papermoon. The show took about 2 weeks to make, and might be considered work in progress. In a post-show q&a, Stempel said that she considered this piece as a natural development of her stop motion work. Stop motion animation is very time consuming to make, and after 5 years of working in this medium she has been unable to break the 5-minute barrier. The figures she constructed for her piece were animated on a tabletop, like her stop motion figures, and thus were in a sense live stop motion, and would allow her, she felt, to create work of longer duration. The audience was restless for much of the performance, for although the English voiceover narration was translated in the projected film into Indonesian, the slow pace and lack of humour made the work difficult to appreciate.

The definite highlight of the evening for the popular audience was Wayang Hiphop, an extended goro-goro clown scene starring the punakawan (Gareng, Petruk and Bagong plus their father Semar) with Javanese language pop songs instead of gamelan. The creator of this new wayang kontemporer genre, which featured as an episode of the Sunday morning tv show World of Wayang this past autumn, is Catur 'Benyek' Kuncoro, a dalang I worked with in 2009 in a wayang bocor production based on the underground cartoons of Yogya-based artist Eko Nugroho. I had shown an excerpt of the WoW episode to my Royal Holloway students this autumn and they were generally nonplussed by this experiment. Some of the students said that the hiphop lacked in street cred, others found the blend of a classical Javanese art and pop culture to be contrived.

From what I saw at Padepokan Seni, Wayang hiphop remains at the experimental phase but growing in confidence. At the start, two groups of female dancers, one young and beautiful and one old and comic, danced to Javanese pop music. The dancers it seems were all associated with Padepokan Seni - when Wayang Hiphop had performed elsewhere local artists had also been incorporated. There was a story at the core of the show in which Petruk had been conned into paying 50 million rupiah to get his son Petrik a job, and then extracted money from Bagong who borrowed money from Gareng. During the course of the story, Petruk pays a visit to the police office to report the con. This was portrayed ingeniously through a projected background and the shadow of a policeman (played by an actor) and the sound of a clicking typewriter. (Other projections included images of central Jakarta -- the National Monument and the like -- and moneybags. Ambient sound was also used to convey the atmosphere of the city.) In the end, Semar is called in to settle the matter. Comic skits like this are common in wayang kulit, and other folk forms like ludrug and kethoprak, and Benyek is a good comic and the audience had no problem with the innovations he introduced, and clearly enjoyed the moments when the two male rappers and female singer emerged from behind the screen to sing, rap and participate in the comedy. Benyek moved easily between roles as MC, vocalist and puppeteer. His outfit - a combination of standard kejawen with dark shades and trainers -- got a laugh upon its initial appearance but seemed quite apt after a while. The audience responded enthusiastically to a quiz at the end in which questions were asked by Benyek (e.g. 'What are the name of Bagong's and Petruk's sons in Wayang Hiphop?') and received Papermoon and Wayang Hiphop merchandise when they answered correctly.

After the show, I had a chance to talk briefly with Benyek. He says that the story that night was new, though many of the devices had been tried before. He spoke also about how much of a pleasure it has been to collaborate with Mexican puppeteer Miguel Escobar, who has been doing participatory research on wayang hiphop towards his PhD at NUS. Miguel shows no compunctions about playing the role of the tourist in these shows, speaking crude Javanese on stage and generally being the butt of Benyek's jokes. Benyek says that people like Miguel and myself are critical for supporting his work - as he is a freelance dalang he doesn't have an institutional base and has had little help from institutions like Pepadi in creating his new work. The Ramadhan tour of Wayang Hiphop last August was a huge success - with 15 performances including devoutly religious places like Demak where wayang is very rarely to be seen. Many of these performances also were accompanied by proselytizing. In these plays, a preacher typically would show up and enlighten the nakal (naughty) hiphop artists and clown servants. Benyek said that he played the role of being nakal to the hilt as there was no point in him acting pious on stage as that dramatic role would be carried by a real preacher. When we parted we both admitted a desire to work together again. We'll see what form that collaboration takes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pesta Boneka #3 (Day 2)

Yesterday (18 December) was day two of Pesta Boneka #3, a puppetry festival in Yogyakarta organised by the Papermoon Puppet Theatre, which this year is happening at Padepokan Seni Bagong Kussudiardjo in Bantul.

There were a variety of workshops and performances on offer during the day for children and adults, as well as a running exhibition.

The day began for me with a workshop on object theatre and the visualisation of poetry by Agus Nur Amal, an Acehnese performer who had given a solo show the night before. Agus had offered a version of this workshop in the UK for the Object Theatre Network, and as I had seen a video of this workshop and discussed it with a number of participants, I was familiar with some of what he had to offer already. The workshop began with a concise description of some of the principles he uses to animate objects.

For example, height of objects relative to his body determines meaning and attitude. A woven rattan cone held up high symbolises a mountain one is climbing, while down below it might be a mountain seen from an airplane or something else entirely. Pace also determines meaning. Dropping or raising a red disc slowly symbolises the setting or rising the sun - but this will not be clear if it is done too quickly. A simultaneous action taking place in two locations can be connected via song or sound effects. All along he pointed out to us how important it is to dramatise actions, and how he is able to switch back and forth between roles through costume and relation to objects.

Much of his work is based on an Acehnese storytelling tradition, and also informed by the language of film (for example soundtracks, interior and exterior shots etc). Agus said that as a youth he worked as a travelling announcer of films, promoting the latests release through a megaphone on the back of a pickup truck.

We began the participatory bit of the workshop by constructed a kind of 'happy world' map from objects that Agus brought with him. I made for example the River Thames with a blue strip of cloth and the nearby Richmond Park. Agus asked me if there was a bridge over the river. I said of course, and added one using a strip of plastic.

Agus then had a number of us do some simple actions to get from one location to the next. The most elaborate perhaps was a scene a workshop participant acted out in which he was magically transported from a grave by a spirit (a plastic bag) to the mysterious Mount Bromo.

A number of the workshop participants, who included both Indonesians and foreigners attending the workshop, brought in bits of poetry which Agus worked on with us. Two of them dealt with themes of dying and Agus ingeniously constructed hospital equipment such as an oxygen mask, an observation window etc.

That evening I returned to Padepokan Seni to see two performances. The first was by the much-loved children's tv puppeteer and illustrator Suyadi, who performs in the garb of a Javanese priyayi under the name Pak Raden, and is best known as the creator of the si Unyil television series. (See picture above.)

Suyadi offered two short plays. The first was a tabletop Unyil puppet play in which a girl named Melani runs away from home as she doesn't want to do the dishes, gets lost in the forest and is given a magical song by a fairy godmother that allows her to avoid being hurt by her enemies. She returns home in the end and helps her grandmother do the dishes after she learns that the magical song only works in the forest.

The audience was familiar with nearly all the characters in the play already, and shouted out in recognition of them. The ogre Raksasa, for example, who eats naughty children, had parents and children screaming in delight. Are there any naughty children here, Raksasa asked? A father held his two children's hands aloft, making the older of the two squirm.

During the second part of his show, Suyadi, who is now eighty years old and arrived at the stage in a wheelchair, told a story and illustrated it on a white board, adding bits and rubbing out bits as the story changed. He was shaky on his feet, but helped out by several assistants. He promised at the end that the next time he would give a longer show. Clearly people in the audience loved what he did, and were touched by the octogenarian's efforts.

The second show of the night was an adaptation of the French film The Red Balloon by the young English company String Theatre. Ria, the festival's director, had met the company when they performed in the same festival in India in 2010, and invited them to the Pesta Boneka. The company of two had both worked previously at London's Puppet Barge and worked with long string marionettes. This was familiar stuff for me (the Puppet Barge moors every September in Richmond, where I live, and I have been seeing performances almost annually since 2005) but the audience in Bantul was clearly enchanted by this novel form.

So, all in all, another very fine second day.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pesta Boneka #3 (Day 1)

Today was the official opening of the third Pesta Boneka organised by Papermoon Puppet Theater, a Yogyakarta puppet theatre that toured the US in the autumn of 2012 with their show Mwathirika about the 1965-66 mass killings in Indonesia. I got to know the company's artistic director Ria and her husband the painter Iwan Effendi fairly well during my 2009 stay in Yogyakarta, and it is a pleasure to see the company growing and thriving, with even more ambitious projects in the work.

The festival is taking place over three days at Padepokan Seni Bagong Kussudiardjo, an arts centre in the southern outskirts, and includes 6 performances, an exhibition and a number of workshops for both children and adults.

The exhibition included an interactive boat by an Australian company, string puppets made by String Theatre Marionettes, a young English company (ex Moving Stage marionette performers) that is doing a small tour of Java; wayang puppets by Ledjar Subroto; a display of Sukasman's wayang ukur stage and several puppets (see picture below); contemporary wayang beber sketches by Dani Iswardana; and a number of impressive works of art based on wayang iconography. A video of one of Eko Nugroho's wayang pieces was also playing when I visited.

The two performances tonight were both by familiar faces to me. The festival opened with a 50-minute wayang kancil performance by Ki Ledjar Subroto of the all-time classic Kancil Nyolong Timun (Kancil Steals Cucumbers). The trickster mouse deer, finding that ecological degradation had resulted in a short supply of food in his home forest, left the jungle to forage in the human fields. There he discovered cucumbers, which he found to his liking, even if they did make him urinate a lot. The irate farmers, who all appeared to be portrait puppets of Yogya personages (a portrait puppet of Ledjar himself also opened and closed the show), capture Kancil and bind him to a tree. But Kancil tricks a gullible orangutan into freeing him, saying that he is being held there as he has been promised to marry the daughter of one of the farmers.

Kancil subsequently tricks crocodiles into forming a bridge to get him across a body of water; tricks Tiger into eating buffalo poo, claiming that it is the magical jenang of the Prophet Solomon and will make him full for the week; and tricks Elephant into saving him from a well. He claims that he is no longer a trickster like in the Soeharto regime. The line that in Reformasi times nobody deceives anyone any more got a good laugh from the audience.

Throughout, Ki Ledjar promoted his skills, saying he would gladly perform at weddings, return to perform at Padepokan Seni if requested etc. He made numerous errors along the way with the puppets (which is only to be expected from a man of his years) but had a good comeback line for each mistake and was well liked by the audience of adults and children. He remains, as ever, Java's preeminent 'puppet uncle'.

The second performance was by Agus Nur Amal, who performs under the stage name PM Toh. Busy as usual, Mas Agus had only just flown in from Jakarta and was picked up at the airport by Ria. This occurrence, and the Newtown school mass shooting (and perhaps my own brief discussion with him before the show), sparked an improvised object theatre performance about a love triangle.

A character named Ria (symbolized by a cute hair band with mouse-like ears, sometimes worn, sometimes animated) is waiting at the Yogyakarta airport for the arrival of her American husband - who the audience decides to name Iwan and is symbolized by a black peci cap. On the plane, Iwan sits next to an attractive Yogya woman (a green plastic bag) who is returning to her home town after doing an MA in the States. They exchange BBM numbers. Iwan takes Ria for a romantic outing at Parangtritis beach (a blue wash tub). The audience laughs hilariously when Iwan's sperm (a strip of a white plastic bag) emerges from a plastic funnel and flows into a plastic water scooper. Ria becomes pregnant and her stomach swells. Iwan contacts his new female friend and they go off for a Bollywood-style dalliance in the forest-- the borrowed set of the wayang kancil show. She too becomes pregnant and there is a tremendous fight in which Ria kills Iwan and his lover.

Agus then stops to apologise to the real Ria, saying that he didn't mean to cast her as a murderer. He had earlier viewed a news programme about the Connecticut school killings on tv and this had prompted this grave turn of events. Agus says he will have to do something. Iwan is rescued by a submarine (a water sprinkling can puffing out a white plastic bag from behind), then medevaced by a helicopter (the same water scooper used to symbolize Ria's jewels).

Thirty years pass. Ria and Iwan's child has grown from a baby-size boot to an adult boot and presents himself in front of a plastic-framed photograph of Ria that Agus had requested in advance from the festival organisers. Mother, he asks in the melodramatic style familiar from the oral tradition, who is my father? I would go in quest of him.

This was a superb opening of what promises to be an excellent few days of puppetry. I am very glad to be able to be here in Yogya to attend.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Semar Gugat by Seno Nugroho

I am spending three weeks in Indonesia with a small grant from the Home Office to dialogue with potential collaborators for research and educational initiatives. I am also, of course, using the opportunity to see some performances, and also am planning to give another wayang golek cepak show in Pekandagan, Indramayu on New Years Eve.

I saw my first show last night (15-16 December), a performance by one of my favourite Javanese puppeteers, Seno Nugroho, who performed his version of the classic lakon carangan, Semar Gugat (Semar Accuses) for the anniversary of the founding of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. I found out about this show through Facebook and  mentioned that I'd be attending also on FB, so when I arrived Mas Seno was expecting me and encouraged me to sit on stage.

During the talu overture and a pre-show gamelan concert by students from the English Department, I had a chance to talk to Mas Seno.  Mas Seno said the lakon, Semar Gugat (Semar Accuses), was requested by a certain Romo Margono , who also paid for the wayang and loaned his gamelan and Solo-style wayang puppets and flew in from Jakarta for the occasion. I asked why Semar Gugat and Mas Seno said it reflected the current political situation with all the disasters and political conflicts going on. Later, in an introduction to the show the MC explained that the wayang reflected UGM's commitment to society and cultural preservation. Seno though complained that the road to the wayang was sealed off making it hard for spectators to attend. The hard core wayang spectators in Yogya are of course tukang becak who are not in sight here.

The play began with a battle scene prologue. Enter Semar and Kresna. Kresna asks why the world is in such turmoil. Semar says doesn't know but he does know that the little people are suffering. Fights, as ever, are over money, women, power. Each thinks he is in the right. Both of us, says Semar, are on earth to bring light to the dark. We need to finish this together. Exit both.

A mysterious sage named Begawan Sabda Dewa has appeared in the court of Astina and convinced the Pendhawa and Kurawa to bury the hatchet. He says that the Bratayuda war can be avoided and a permanent peace established but it will require first getting rid of Kresna-- who drives the Pendhawa to war. Bima vows that he will bring an enchained Kresna to Astina, where he will presumably be killed. After Bima exits, Sabda Dewa entices Arjuna to capture and bind Semar. For even if Kresna is gotten rid of, with Semar still alive peace would be impossible. Arjuna agrees to the task. 

During the Limbukan clown interlude, spectators, mostly male, throng the stage to witness a protracted standard bit where Seno interviews each of his 9 pesindhen in turn, who are mostly current or past ISI Yogya students. They are arranged at the stage in order of age, from a high school girl closest to the dalang (who says she wants to study language at Gadjah Mada) to 2 older sinden at the far right. 

Seno had warned me that he would interview me and expect me to sing a sulukan during the Limbukan. What he didn't warn me is that he would parody my Javanese accent (just as he parodied the singing style and mannerisms of each of his vocalists) and also accuse me of 'stealing' gigs from him as Canada. (I performed in 2011 with Madu Sari, a Canadian gamelan that Mas Seno had also performed with and was, it seems, keen to perform again with.) He said I must have undersold him. The clowns poked fun at our disparity of income -- he has three sets of puppets at home from Cirebon, Solo and Yogya (I in fact have only one!) while all I (Cangik) have is a set of playing cards. 

The clowns also made passing reference to UGM as a centre of technological innovation. Even with the development of technology, wayang will still exist as there is always innovation in it, always new developments. One of these 'developments' for Seno has been to get rid of the synthesizer that in the past played such a big role in the clown scene. He has returned to an all-gamelan accompaniment as he now feels that the synthesizer blocks people's appreciation of gamelan, and will ultimately lead to wayang fading in popularity. Most of the songs performed in the Limbukan and the Goro-Goro were classics like Caping Gunung, Slendang Biru and Uler Kambang, and Seno spends much time making musical jokes, with the pesinden normally as the butt of these. 

The musical arrangements, however, are hardly conservative. The budalan departure of the army scene that follows the clown scene, for example, has choral singing in harmony and exciting Banyumas style drumming and senggakan for the dancing Kurawa. Not only Dursasana but also Durmagati and Citraksi get to dance - both claim to be jealous of Dursasana's special kendang accompaniment. 

In the scenes that follow, we see Bima attempting to capture Kresna, who is defended by Wisanggeni and Ontoseno. Antareja, possessed by the soul of Dasamuka, fights against his brother Ontoseno. A strange king named Prabu Kaneka Jati steps in when Bima is unable to take Kresna, but Kresna avoids him as well. 

It is 2am when the Goro-Goro clown scene begins. Petruk explains that there are many reasons for people to watch wayang, not only plot but also humour. He cites the version of Semar Gugat by the comic puppeteer Ki Sugito almarhum as a particular inspiration, but notes that there are many other versions of the story, including ones by Ki Manteb and Ki Anom and an amateur dalang (whose name escapes me). Each dalang is not only distinctive but actively invites kontroversi, as such controversy gathers attention and leads to popularity. Seno is sometimes accused of being neither Yogya nor Solo in style. His 'mouth' (cangkem) or vocal style is Solo but not other aspects. The good folk from the national wayang association Senawangi (and here Seno names names) accuses him of being 'Prambanan style', somewhere between Solo and Yogya. The audience laughs heartily at this joke, as Prambanan is considered to be low class in comparison to the court traditions espoused by the two towns. But in fact before the Giyanti treaty and the division of Mataram by 'Matthew's people' (and here the dalang points to me explicitly) Solo and Yogya were one and the same. 

In the middle of a rendition of Slendang Biru, a note is slipped to Mas Seno asking him to allow time for the announcement of the door prize. There are lots of prizes, including a flat screen tv and refrigerator. But the door prize drawing had been announced for 1am and many of the people who had purchased tickets for this had already gone home. Numbers are drawn repeatedly and when nobody stands up to collect the prize, a new number has to be drawn. The audience next to the stage gets impatient. 'Selak subuh!' (it's near morning). 'Wis nggo dalange' (just give the puppeteer the prize). The final prize is in fact won by a bonang player in the group. The audience shouts out that the dalang should cut his salary, and the remainder of the goro-goro is spent poking fun at the musician and what he'll do with his prize.

Mas Seno, like me, spent the door prize drawing looking at his mobile phone. Petruk reports that during the door prize drawing he got a text message from Pekan Baru from a wayang fan listening to the wayang, which is being broadcast via live streaming. He says that Matthew could have done the same, listening to the wayang at home via the Internet. That would have saved him the cost of a ticket. Another clown asks if he (Matthew) understands the language. Yes, of course, he is a dalang and has been laughing happily all night.

Finally, at 3.20am, the story is continued and moves forward at a much faster pace towards completion. Abimanyu reports to Semar that the Pendhawa are all now in Astina and hope to have peace with the Kurawa. Semar offers sage advice about the meaning of life. Arjuna enters, and asks Semar if he loves the Pendhawa. Semar says certainly, lahir and bathin. Arjuna says that in that case Semar must accompany him to Amarta as he is to be sacrificed for the sake of peace. One life must perish so that many do not die in the Bratayuda war. Semar becomes furious and stands up at Arjuna's level. You say you want peace, Semar accuses, but at what cost? I am human and possesses feelings. Abimanyu defends Semar against his father, saying that he is not fighting Arjuna but rather Arjuna's wrong and embarrassing ways. In the middle of the fight, Semar disappears and Arjuna then returns to Astina. 'Perhaps it was ever fated.'

Sanghyang Tunggal tells Semar, Kresna and Wisanggeni at the start of pathet manyura (3.40am) that peace cannot be achieved when there is a lack of unity between rulers and their people. He merges Semar and Kresna into the figure of single priest named Begawan Padma Sabda and transforms Wisanggeni into a cantrik (disciple). At the end of the story, it is revealed that Sabda Dewa was in fact Bathara Guru and Kaenka Jati was Narada (who is also known as Kaneka Putra). Semar says he suspected all along that this was the doing of his brother Bathara Guru. 'Don't you have enough to do already? Your task is to bring light into this world. If you do something like this again, I will mount [to the heavens] and mess you up.' Kresna gets angry at Arjuna for being forgetful of his duties and upbringing and mindlessly heeding a sage without a place. Anoman fights against Antareja and Rahwana escapes from Antareja's body. Petruk and Bagong escape into the puppet chest, saying they will wait out the rest of the lakon there. (They do make one more appearance, but are then scooped up by the puppeteer and bodily transported back to the chest. The puppeteers grins wickedly at this subversion.) Bima fights the rest of the Kurawa and the lakon concludes with Bima's customary dance and a few words. 
It is now after 4.30am and as there are no tukang becak in attendance I struggle briefly to find a way back to my accommodation. But I get a ride in the end on the back of a tukang ojek's motorcycle.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gathotkaca Gugur at the Southbank

I attended yesterday afternoon at the Southbank Centre an abbreviated wayang kulit peformance by Aris Daryono, a musician from Java who has been a member of the Southbank Gamelan Players (SBGP) for some years. This was Mas Aris' debut performance as a dhalang, and in many ways a fairly auspicious start. The wayang, accompanied by the SBGP, was a free event in the ballroom of the Royal Festival Hall (the same location where Purbo Asmoro did his all-night wayang with the Southbank Gamelan Players in 2007), part of an event billed as Gamelan Christmas Chimes that also featured a variety of dances and music, with Ni Made Pujawati and friends. (Unfortunately I didn't get to see the earlier acts.) The wayang lasted a bit over two hours in all. 

Though he has been living in London for quite some time, Mas Aris's English is thickly accented, and the poor amplification meant that it was often hard to understand what he was saying. There was very little dialogue, however, so this was not much of a problem. Gathtokaca Gugur is considered to be a very 'heavy' lakon, as it is part of the Bharatayudha cycle and features the death of one of wayang's most beloved characters. But Aris played up the comedy, with an emphasis on two of the punakawan, Petruk and Bagong, and good use made of his musical talents, particularly in timing the dancing of the puppets to music. His sabetan was a bit rough and unpolished, as might be expected, and though he has a nice singing voice he had some trouble with getting the right notes for the start of the sulukan he sung. Musical accompaniment by the Southbank Gamelan Players was polished and professional - I enjoyed particularly the rendition of Banyumas pieces, though was less convinced by an arrangement of a Sundanese tembang for pesinden, Sundanese rebab and Javanese siter.

There were a number of funny jokes along the way, many aimed at SBGP members. Cakil, in his battle against Arjuna, spoke first with John Pawson, asking if he was single and if so did he want to go on a date with him to see a movie. The punakawan joked about how the SBGP is the best gamelan group in the world, playing on the SBGP's sometimes overly-inflated self opinion. The clowns then apologised to Andy Channing, a SBGP who also directs London's Lila Cita Balinese group, and said that actually it is the second best group. There was also a very funny bit where Durmagati, loaded down with weapons, searches the field of battle to look for Gatotkaca, who is behind him- leading to inevitable panto-like exchanges with the audiences -- 'he's behind you!' 'I didn't say I would kill you...' 'Oh yes you did!' 'Oh no I didn't!'  

All in all, good fun, even if the philosophy and tragedy of the lakon were absent.