Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
As a country whose many of its people still strive to even eat 3 times a day, traveling for leisure (within or out of Indonesia) and art aren’t the things that’s very much appreciated. But with the economic rise lately, at least seen in my daily life, people has shown a little bit more appreciation toward arts. And I’m not just talking about pop music concerts (did you know that Maroon Five and Owl City concerts in Jakarta were sold out fast?). While the young people – including me – can fluently mouth the lyrics of American pop songs than telling our own stories, it’s good news that tickets to local performances, based on modern or traditional stories, have been sold out too.
Matah Ati performance at Solo’s Mangkunegaran field in September 2012 was a show much anticipated by a lot of Indonesians including moi. That was my first traveling in Indonesia (or anywhere) just to see a traditional dance being performed. Why did I want to see it so bad? Well, having had a chance to work as a subordinate to the show’s artistic director, Jay Subiyakto, a few years ago, and knowing how meticulous he was about art directing, I just had to see it. Also because EVERYONE said that the 3 previous shows (1 in Esplanade Theater, Singapore and 2 in Jakarta) were artistically awesome, and that the one in Solo was going to be MAJOR!!
The show was performed on 3 consecutive nights on a huge outdoor stage and had a colonial-styled artillery building as the background. I sat in the last row of the tribune, which pretty much says I’ll be watching the players about 3 cm tall’, and thousands of Solo people sat down in the ‘festival’ area. As Matah Ati is a story written by a Solo blue blood, Atilah Soeryadjaya, about the non-fiction history of a Solo warrior lady, the committee gave out thousands of free tickets for people who are registered as Solo residents. That’s a heartwarming recognition, as there are rarely freebies for so many people for expensive shows like this (I paid IDR 250,000 for my seat, which was the cheapest, and the most expensive was IDR 750,000 / ticket).
The story was basically about Rubiyah, a Surakarta commoner from Matah village, who charmed the rebellious warrior of the Surakarta Kingdom, Raden Mas Said (also known as Pangeran Samber Nyowo) with her skill in war and weaponry as well as her beauty and grace. (Isn’t she too good to be true?) They then got married and Rubiyah was then named Bendara Raden Ayu Matah Ati. The battles that Raden Mas Said led finally resulted in an agreement, in which he’s crowned as a king in his own reign named Mangkunegaran. As a culture that’s very much patriarchal, I found it interesting that they have a heroic story with a woman as the centre character. Matah Ati must had been a very special and strong lady, and the prince to be attracted to such woman, instead of being threatened amidst their culture, also stole my sympathy. I totally admire these two characters for these reasons.
Having a special story to be adapted to a stage play, Matah Ati show deserved a special treatment, and that’s exactly what went on. Fire, smoke, light effects and humongous shadow puppets, they had it all! 250 dancers took part, showing their skills on a slanted stage! “The dancers weren’t happy with me for making the stage slanted cos it was hard to dance on such surface, but after some practice they adapted really well,” Jay told me the day after the show when I bumped into him at the Omah Sinten restaurant, Solo. Jay is a perfectionist and frank. God knows, I was always nervous to present my works to him, I could only imagine how he’d react and comment at dance practice. But aside to that, I bet these dancers practiced very hard, judging from the neat performance.
Being outdoors, the show was on fire. Really! They had fire and the works. Ha! Call me shallow but I love a good show with some action and spectacular special effects on stage. I’m that MTV generation who are more attracted to fast cuts and a real big fire on stage to illustrate a war. Visually alone, Matah Ati was a feast for the eyes. The attractive and colorful light effects, gorgeous wardrobe (though I couldn’t see the details cos I sat so far from the stage), magnificent design projected on the background, and smoke effect that added a bit of mystical ambiance to the whole show.
There were, however, moments when I almost snoozed off. Maybe it was the blowing wind, parts with slow dance movements as expected from Javanese dancing, or the fact that I was a little drained having visited the gong workshop earlier, but I struggled to stay awake. But the sleepy moments were balanced with some comical characters that spiced up the show and successfully made everyone – who understood Indonesian, a bit of Javanese language and a bit of Indonesian social and politic situation – laugh.
The narration was in Javanese and I couldn’t understand it fully. I was sitting next to my Bandung-born-and-raised Javanese friends Danti and Kandi, and neither of them understood it fully. Moreover, the language used was of the higher Javanese language, which isn’t as common as it used to be. After the show was over, pamphlets on the performance were handed out on our way out. A bit too late, don’t you think? We would’ve understood the show better if we read the pamphlets before the show began.
All in all, I found Matah Ati as one of the best live performances I’ve seen, not only in Indonesia, but also in several countries. I may not have seen Cirque Du Soleil or other internationally reputable artistic live shows, but considering the little appreciation Indonesian live performers and show creators in this country have gotten all these years, I was proud to see such creation and enthusiasm the people give to all the Matah Ati shows. I am looking forward to see more of this kind of performance as I myself need to learn more about our own art and culture 🙂