Last night to celebrate the new year I gave my first all-night performance of wayang golek cepak, performing the lakon Sutajaya at the Bale Desa of Pekandangan, Indramayu accompanied by the full gamelan of my teacher Dalang Calim from Pegagan Kidul (Kec. Kepetakan, Kab. Cirebon). I had performed the first part of this same lakon in August 2012, which concerns Pekandangan's most famous hero, and it seems that there were folk in Pekandangan who were not satisfied and wished to see the lakon performed to its completion.
I think I gave a very strong performance all in all - Calim pulled me over after the show and said with a smile that it was ngetop (the top, the best) - but many things did not go to plan. The principal organisers of the show, as in August, were Ade, husband of the topeng dancer Aerly and co-director of Pekandangan's Sanggar Topeng Mimi Rasinah, and the village headman (kuwu), who remains as intent as he was last August of making Pekandangan into a desa parawisata. Ade, who had did such a fine job organising the performance in the school yard in August with very minimal means, was distracted in December by organising a tour to Bulgaria to perform at a Christmas fair. When that gig fell through due to Garuda dropping out as the sponsor for the plane tickets, he became despondent and it seems did not really apply himself fully to organising my own performance. This meant, among other things, a smaller audience than the August performance with fewer VIPs in attendance, provision of a smaller stage than was needed, late arrival of the evening meal and cigarettes for the musicians, no fireworks at midnight, poor coordination with Radio Kidang Kencana (which had offered to broadcast the show live, and in the end pulled out) and perhaps most importantly for the folk in Pekandangan a smaller amount in donations than expected, which meant that Pak Kuwu had to front much of the money for the show out of his own personal funds. There had been plans to bareng my show with a wayang golek cepak performance by a dalang from the eastern half of Kabupaten Cirebon, to give spectators the opportunity of seeing two versions of the same lakon. But this proved impossible due to lack of funds. I do not blame Ade for the lack of coordination - he really is an excellent and enthusiastic arts manager with huge reserves of energy, and I would have done a worse job if I were in his shoes.
There were many memorable moments in this show for me. I enjoyed going once more to visit the principal tapakan of Sutajaya, the kandang associated with Ki Jebug Angrum which is an important shrine, to request the permission and blessings of the ancestors. I was very touched that the 85-year-old dalang Gonda, the most senior dalang wayang kulit in Indramayu, attended the whole show from beginning to end. Gonda has not performed wayang kulit since 1965 but is highly respected among artists in the region for his knowledge, collection of antique manuscripts and puppets and age and authority. I got a chance to talk to him before and after the show- he remains sharp as a nail, and was very pleased by the show I gave, complementing me that I am fully competent (wis dadi) as a puppeteer. I also enjoyed receiving a souvenir t-shirt from Pekandangan from a rack of t-shirts sold at the bale desa which reads 'SUTAJAYA LEGEND, PEKANDANGAN-INDRAMAYU' with a picture of the village shrine in the middle. For Ade and others in the audience, the most memorable moment was when two village elders got into a big fight about my interpretation of the story. In my telling (as in also the sandiwara version by Candra Kirana, Pusaka Setan Kober) Sutajaya is accused by Sultan Matangaji of stealing the kraton's keris Naga Runting and exiled as a result. As Sutajaya is a local culture hero, the accusation of him being a maling or thief was taken as an affront by one eldery spectator and threats were exchanged with another. This disruption shows how seriously people in Pekandangan took the event.
Aesthetically, there were many moments that were pure joy for me, others where I stumbled a bit and perhaps even a few moments which dragged. Overall though, the show was over in a flash, and though I did not hold back in singing, storytelling and movement, I was not very tired after it was over.
Before the show I was introduced to a group of teenage hanger-oners to the Sanggar Topeng Mimi Rasinah who describe themselves as wamen - short for wanita mendi bae or 'wherever women'. In the opening scenes, I had the clown servant Lamsijan talk to Sutajaya about how he had enjoyed his time in Pekandangan and a relation he had struck up with one such wamen - this of course got a big laugh from the audience. I was also told by Aerli's mother that boys are locally addressed as nang not cung, and so I had Ki Jebug Angrum call his son nang. The night market was going on during the performance, and so when Suta and Lamsijan go to buy the keris Sekober I was able to make reference to this and have Lamsijan point in the direction where the actual market was going on.
The two trick puppets I used during the first battle (a standard halangan scene in wayang golek) - a drunken buta with a bottle of alcohol in one hand that vomits water and a punk buta named Coker (short for Cowok Keren) who can emit smoke from his mouth and sings the comic song Udud Dulu by Enthus Susmono - went off well. I set this battle in Unjung Krangkeng and had at the end the principal buta named si Lorod takluk to the power of Keris Sekober. This taklukan explains to Suta about the magic power of the keris and later clears the forest (notor alas) for Sutajaya and later helps him in many other endeavours not dramatized in the lakon I performed. I felt it was a good use of this scene- which otherwise would have been very formulaic. A spectator afterwards commented however that I could have also had the buta turn out to be a jelmaan of Ki Guna Wangsa, a way to trial his resolve. (Guna Wangsa later in the lakon assists Suta in his moments of need.)
A pleasant moment for me was in the dancing of Dipati Anom at his first appearance at the Siti Inggil of Kraton Kasepuhan. It is very hard to dance puppets without a full gamelan accompaniment, and so in my rehearsals with Calim I spent very little time working on dancing. In performance, the dance came fully alive, with many variations and a great sense of play. I had a similar feeling later in the lakon upon the first entrance of Prabu Klana Juru Demung-- who dances in the style of the topeng mask Klana. Calim, who was sitting at my side throughout the performance, preparing and passing puppets to me, beamed with pride at both moments.
I had a major special effect in the Gedong Jinem scene, where two metal keris were connected to batteries and sparked as they fought each other. This was accompanied by a special lighting effect and the spooky sounds associated with sandiwara. Unfortunately the sound and light guy I employed to engineer this effect, and also a special effect involving flowers that grow mysteriously from pots, vanished for most of the rest of the show, meaning I didn't get special effects elsewhere in the lakon.
When Sutajaya is exiled by Sultan Matangaji, accused of stealing the keris, the pathos of the moment was greatly increased by the beautiful singing of the sinden Een. Unfortunately I forgot to sampiraken Suta's arm and have him hunched over to portray his sadness. And the love play between Sutajaya and the three women he marries in the lakon - the princess from Cirebon, the daughter of the sage Ki Ajar Sidik and the discontent wife of Juru Demung - seemed to be much enjoyed by audience members. Pekandangan is known for its flirtatious women, and I played this element up.
There were other mishaps along the way of course. A buta entered once with his head backwards, to the hilarity of the audience. Lamsijan's head fell off when he lay down during once scene and an audience member had to pick it up and hand it back to me. I made mistakes on occasion with puppet voices and grammar. And I sometimes struggled to control the gamelan - Calim did not fully trust me to conduct the gamelan by myself and was giving covert and overt signals (with a cempala!) though I had tried to tell him subtly that I did not wish him to do this. I was able to give a minor dig at him however, criticising a watering can he had made for the show as looking like a teh poci kettle. Calim responded quickly on stage that he did not make it, it was Dalang Uk who did, and I wove that into my dialogue as well. Such good-natured ribbing is part of the normal banter of wayang.
I finished the show a minute or two after 3am. The village headman had said I could have up to 4am to perform but I had assured him that I would not need all this time. Calim was very clear that I should not go beyond 3am as this would be a violation of professional etiquette. I would perhaps have run the show til 3.15 am but the musicians were very clear to me, through numerous signs, that I needed to stop. This meant an ending that was perhaps less satisfactory than usual for me. I normally end shows with requests for forgiveness if any mistakes were made, general proclamations about the nature of wayang, moral messages, blessings to the audience, sometimes a joke or two etc. All this had to be truncated. Calim's most serious criticism of me after the show was that I did not end exactly on time. But I think this was only to be expected in my first all-night attempt in the form.
A film crew from ISIF recorded the show on handicam and also took photographs and have promised a DVD to me and Pekandangan's kuwu. I plan to upload the DVD to youtube if the result is satisfactory as there are no full-length videos of wayang golek cepak currently available. I hope to continue my practical investigations into wayang golek cepak in months and years ahead. Thanks are due to Pak Kuwu Pekandangan, Ade, Aerly, Calim and all the supportive spectators and performers last night.