The Ramayana. Dalang (puppeteer) Sutendri Yusuf, accompanied by "Laras Budoyo" gamelan orchestra led by composer Soegito Hardjodikoro. National Multicultural Festival at Albert Hall, February 14 – 18, 2005. School performances 10am and 2pm each day. Evening performance Friday February 18, 7pm (Indonesian meals available from 6pm).
The title "Laras Budoyo" has just been coined by Soegito Hardjodikoro for the gamelan performers combining Australians and Indonesians from Canberra and Perth. The locals told me they have been learning the music since last October, but the group had only one rehearsal with Sutendri Yusuf before opening day. Both Sutendri and Soegito were very happy and so "The Beautiful Harmony of Arts and Culture Orchestra" it became.
Wayang Kulit simply means puppets made of leather, but there is nothing simple about the artistry and cultural importance of the dalang. The gamelan and dalang tradition go back to around 600AD, before Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam became in turn incorporated into Javanese life. In telling the adopted Indian stories like The Ramayana and The Mahabarata, the dalang has become both creative artist and wise man, to whom people go for counselling about ethical behaviour, about making good decisions. The stories reveal the nature of good and evil, opening up philosophical issues. So ordinary villagers and also people of high status in government will all seek out the dalang for advice.
One might wish for more Beautiful Harmony of Arts and Culture in Australian politics. Maybe the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition should seek out John Bell, director of Bell Shakespeare.
Watch Sutendri Yusuf from behind the shadow puppet screen and you see the artistry hard at work. He tells the story with the puppets, speaks all their voices (in English for our benefit), sings the traditional operatic songs, cues in the orchestra. A master dalang indeed. The effect on the front of the screen is a wonderful creation of characters and technically fascinating as the figures change from highly focussed to soft shadows, from small detailed actions to amazing somersaults and battle scenes. Yet Sutendri told me that only a month or two ago he saw a video of the front of screen for the first time. Since he began learning as a teenager he has only worked backstage, studying other masters in action.
Friday evening will be a true community performance, though only 2 hours rather than the tradition 8 hours long. Sutendri will shape his performance for the full range of adults and children expected in the audience. Take the opportunity, too, to talk with this genuine educator through the arts - a wise man indeed.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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