Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Potret Manehna, an Innovation of the Traditional

I recently was invited to perform for the opening of a new gallery, Gallery Syang, in Magelang, Indonesia. I invited violinist Eko Balung, along with Sundanese gamelan musicians Asep Saepudin and Nandang, to join me in creating an experimental opera that combined elements of traditional Sundanese music and opera into a contemporary context. We innovated two traditional Indonesian songs, Potret Manehna (Sundanese, meaning 'The Portrait of You'), and Warung Pojok (Javanese, meaning 'The Food Stand on the Corner') over an intensive one-week rehearsal period. I also made my costume, which I had envisioned as a giant opera skirt with a traditional Javanese kebaya (woman's blouse). For the skirt I used a large bamboo bird cage, which I covered with fabric and an extra large skirt.
What excited me the most about this project was the passion I received from the musicians, whose cross of music styles was refreshing for everyone, and turned out to make a fabulous sound. I loved using opera as a way to express the quirkiness of character and performance, while still focusing on the sensuality and freedom of musical instrumentation. Music, I find, is an excellent way to draw an audience in and invite them to 'feel' the rhythms. The music proves later to be more than just an instrumental performance, but also one with surprise and expression, in the special moments where the theatrical emerges. I have been realizing more and more recently, after being in Indonesia for nearly four years, that what excites me the most about the traditional styles of music and dance I have been studying here, is how they can be blended into contemporary performance practices. This project is one example of the possibility of innovation and collaboration between different art styles and traditions, and in the end it was a great success!! The audience loved it, as did the performers!!