ARIAH, It’s So Much More Than A Ghost Story! – DKI Jakarta

Submitted by viravira on 22 July 2013   •  Destination

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Matah Ati creators were back with their latest creation, Ariah. This time it involved 200 dancers, 120 orchestra musicians, and performed on 3 consecutive days on the biggest stage in Indonesia by far. Having been awed by Matah Ati, I expected to get at least as entertained and inspired by Ariah. Was I disappointed? Read on.


Jakarta’s birthday is celebrated for the whole month on every June. And for that reason, the city’s governor, Joko Widodo, asked the Matah Ati team to repeat the glory for Jakarta. What great creators would turn down such an offer? And so they worked their tails off for ONLY 5 months. (ONLY? Yes, compared to the 2,5 years for Matah Ati preparation.)

The story was about a Betawi (native Jakarta) girl named Ariah, who lived in the 19th century, in the times of Dutch colonization over Indonesia. The youthful and beautiful girl died defending herself against the authoritarian figures, who fought over her to lustfully make her a concubine. Hence she is known as the rebellion figure of Betawi people. Little did I know, it is Ariah whose story then developed into a ghost story so famous in Indonesia upon her death on the bridge of Ancol: “Si Manis Jembatan Ancol” or The Pretty Girl of Ancol Bridge. Whoa, she’s that legendary! It was so famous, it was made as a premise of a TV series. It was cheesy but most of the 90’s kids would know.


I was mislead by my own expectation, though. My little knowledge of the story lead me to think that Ariah was supposed to be a heroine whose fight against the superiors was huge like Rubiyah of Matah Ati. So I was waiting for the big heroic scene all through the play, and when it ended I was like, “Hey, that’s it? Where’s the war? But I thought Ariah was a heroine!” I felt she was more like a victim rather than a heroine. But then after doing some more reading on the story, I realized that even refusing and defending yourself against someone who wanted to marry you as their 2nd or even 12th wife, was a heroic thing to do as a woman back then in Indonesia. Wow. Life. Was. Tough.

However, the vibrant character of Ariah shone through the whole play. The dance and songs were mostly dynamic, except the romantic part between Ariah and Juki, and the sad part about her family being oppressed. And that’s the way I like a play: cheerful! I couldn’t help comparing this play with Matah Ati, where the slow numbers got me almost falling asleep.


Ariah’s music was mostly medium to upbeat, and I understood the language. Betawi language is only slightly different than Indonesian language, which I perfectly understand, so I got the jokes n’ all. The dialogs were uttered in conversations and songs, with the music played by an orchestra lead by Erwin Gutawa, one of the music maestros of Indonesia.

Artistic wise, my eyes were spoiled by the magic that Jay Subyakto once again did as the artistic director. He designed a stage with so many slopes. Yes, slopes, because levels are too easy. And the sloping stage was constructed right in front of Monas (National Monument), the most iconic landmark of Jakarta. Video mapping is projected on the stage and the monument, portraying the mood and situation each and every scene was set.


And once again the performers proved that such difficult stage is possible to conquer. They danced, sang, ran around and acted on the 72-meter wide stage. I can only imagine how beefy their thighs are after all the training and performances!

As if the stage and video mapping weren’t spectacular enough, they added fireworks and fire to the show. Hohohoho…I love fire on stage! Honestly I forgot on which part of the play the fire went up, but not only it simply looks grandiose, it also requires a skillful handling to make sure things were safe!


One thing I kind of regretted is that I sat so far from the stage! Well, the cheapest ticket of IDR 275,000 per seat was what I could afford loosely. Unfortunately, that also meant I couldn’t look at the details of the colorful costumes. They looked so attractive from where I sat. The costume designer was Chitra Subijakto, the baby sister of the artistic director (but hey, what’s with the different spelling of the last name?), who has been one of my favorite Indonesian fashion stylists J Looking at the stage from afar, I was most amazed with the Dragon Trail costume of the Chinese wealthy trader Oey Tambah Sia. It’s fantabulous! It’s got a really long cape (perhaps 4 meter long) that it literally trails along the stage. Suited the golden vehicle on which he rode on really well. I just hope it didn’t get damaged by the edges of the stage or anything.


Ariah was truly a remarkable work of art. I love how they made use of Monas, a site almost forgotten by middle and upper class because it’s just not hip, yet it is still the most important landmark of Jakarta. And I obviously love Ariah play for its spectacular. And for the cute merchandise! Oh!

Lastly, I hope there will be more of this kind of shows held in Indonesia, bringing together so many kinds of people to watch and rediscover the culture and history of our own country, and possibly love it more!


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