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.

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