email d.d. 25-11-04 from
Dr. Matthew Isaac Cohen BA, MPhil, PhD
Lecturer, Theatre Studies
Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies
University of Glasgow
UNITED KINGDOM

Dear Rene,

Thanks so much for writing. I am embarrassed for not having gotten back to you sooner. I was waiting until I had presented your beautiful DVD to students in my ‘Puppets, Masks and Performing Objects’ seminar, in order to get student feedback as well. This hasn’t happened yet—for various reasons—but I will give my own initial impressions. These are still very rough and unfocussed. I do plan on writing on the work at greater length.

I found the concepts of both production and DVD greatly engrossing and fascinating. I was very appreciative of the way performance was integrated with the story of the journey, with the bus becoming setting, scenery, mode of transportation as well as a temperamental character. The bus—a piece of Western-derived technology that has been thoroughly Indonesianized—becomes the performance vehicle by which two performance streams meet and do NOT fuse, but happily exchange points of view. This is much like Indonesian road traffic, we see—in which vehicles are always narrowly averting disaster by swerving and not hitting each other.

Jazz, to the average Indonesian, is unknown and when known is experienced as a maker of (high) class. Wayang, in contrast, is known to all but is generally considered either as low class or ‘kuno’ (overly traditional). In your work we see the staged negotiation of these two VERY different performance fields. Sometimes the fields overlap—through Luluk’s singing, the songs accompanying the clowns, comic introductory dialogue by Rene in Indonesian. Mostly integrity and independence is maintained. Moments of great levity alternate with moments of utmost seriousness.

I found myself absorbed by the DVD’s incidental comments and moments—the impromptu academic seminar that emerges due to the lateness  of arrival of the bus, the problems with breakdowns, the appearance of Luluk’s father on screen. All show the show not to be a foreign import but engaged in the quotidian substance of everyday Indonesian life. In sum, a fascinating portrait of cultural work in process, a show that opens up possibilities rather than presenting final solutions—a lakon that is being simultaneously extemporized by a group of dalang, each in his/her own unique performance idiom.

My greatest thanks for sharing the DVD with me: I will write more later.

Matthew

 Matthew Isaac Cohen, Ph.D.
Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies
University of Glasgow
UNITED KINGDOM

 

 

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