Chainsaws and Gamelan

Apr 14, 2011

Chainsaws and Gamelan

Kathleen Pletcher

Executive Artistic Director

(Yogyarta, Indonesia) Contemporary culture is flourishing in a country renowned for its classical arts. Having practically launched my work in the arts from a love of Wayang Kulit (shadow puppetry), Wayang Golek (wooden rod puppetry), Topeng (traditional dancers wearing masks) and ritual forms of dance and theatre, this was a mind bending return to Indonesia. The second largest nation of Facebook-users on the planet - having tripled its number of users to 35.5 million in just the past year - is reaching forward culturally. Young, media-savvy artists transposing the styles and medium of their artist heritage: wayang kulit combined with electronic musical scores to address issues of domestic violence; traditionally trained mid-career artists turning their virtuosity to speak to the world now; hip-hop performers fusing ancient poetry with spoken word.

Coming to the point of having in-depth exchange and dialogue with Indonesia’s contemporary performing artists - whether in a studio outside Jogjakarta or on U.S. home turf - is a mind-expanding undertaking, as we discovered on the Center Stage advance trip this March. Day 1: our van twisted and turned down small roads, often looping back when encountering an impediment.  GPS does no good in a place where individuals sometimes name streets. Since half the narrow road was being re-cemented by workers with pails of concrete, we hopped out to continue the journey on foot.  Nuri, the company manager of Mugi Dance, had come via motor scooter to show us the path to their studio/home surrounded by palm trees and song birds.  What a wonderful setting with performance alongside family life, children donning Topeng masks, call to prayer and sounds of chainsaws a counterpoint to gamelan and singing.

The classic arts as a springboard into new realms of creativity are a common thread across all the artists we have seen.  While what we are building as a presenter in Providence, RI, springs from the idea that “firsts in the arts” has the power to change our lives and our community, it's inspiring to see that, in a sense, we share this passion across the artists we met in Indonesia.

Photo of Mugi Dance by Kathleen Pletcher