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.

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