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.

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