Teater Garasi: Embracing the in-between

Drops of fortune: Actress Hanny Herlina looks up at money falling from the sky. Garasi actors impersonate Tarling-Dangdut performers, who in real life, receive money thrown or given to them by the audience. — Photo by courtesy of Festival Salihara
Drops of fortune: Actress Hanny Herlina looks up at money falling from the sky. Garasi actors impersonate Tarling-Dangdut performers, who in real life, receive money thrown or given to them by the audience. — Photo by courtesy of Festival Salihara

The sight of a big-eared red Teletubby with a Mohawk pushing dangdut singing women on a yellow makeshift boat into a crowd of amused art lovers is bound to create a surreal and absurd image.

So do women performing the traditional tari topeng (mask dance) using plastic masks of robot action heroes to the otherworldly sounds of blipping techno music.

But, these vignettes, part of experimental artist collective Teater Garasi’s latest play Tubuh Ketiga: Pada Perayaan yang Berada di Antara (The Third Body: On Embracing the In-Between), are not mere imaginary visions popping out from the minds of the Yogyakarta-based collective.

Directed by Yudi Ahmad Tajudin who collaborated with members of Teater Garasi, Tubuh Ketiga is an essay in the form of a visual art performance based on observations of Tarling-Dangdut art from the Indramayu community.

A coastal city near the border of Central and West Java, Indramayu is a crossing point between strong Sundanese and Javanese cultural centers; the urban life of Jakarta and sleepy rural village life; an industrial and agricultural area; and tradition and modernity.

Teater Garasi’s Tubuh Ketiga became a tribute to the people who live in the space in between, celebrating the latter’s relaxed openness to different cultures from virtually every direction.

The people from Indramayu have developed their own brand of art namely Tarling-Dangdut, a mixture of electric guitar, percussion, Sundanese flute with gamelan sensibility, combined with India-influenced Dangdut music and even techno sounds created from old chips.

By way of bricolage, Indramayu people take popular culture references and use them as their own. Beyond the tackiness of the performances, Teater Garasi sees a soupçon  of nonchalance in the meeting of different cultures — a refreshing attitude amid some of today’s fear-filled reactions toward change in the form of fundamentalism and chauvinism.

Teater Garasi presented Tubuh Ketiga on Oct. 11 and 12 at Salihara. Like a warm village reception, friends of Garasi formed a line and greeted the audience. Steamed bananas, peanuts and glasses of water were served to spectators, who took their places on the floor, the low-wooden platforms or stood at the back of the theater.

Guitar riffs accompanied poet Gunawan Maryanto, the night’s MC. His singsong voice kept on rolling word after word, until the white curtain located behind a metal bench adorned with fake flowers — and bearing the sign “Congratulations for a new life in the globalization era” — was torn down.

As the curtain fell, the audience saw a painting of the sun setting behind the mountain, rice paddies and factories on screens surrounding Salihara’s black box theater walls. The play about Tarling-Dangdut singer Shanti Revaldi began.

In the 70-minute performance, tari topeng maestro Wangi Indriya danced with Sri Qadariatin, and Hanny Herlina with Theodorus Christanto.

The play featured a varied selection of songs from Kucing Garong (Wild Cat), Mujaer Mundur (Backward Fish) to Bjork’s It’s not up to You.

The most profound moment of the play was Wangi’s singing of the song Rhizomatic while Hanny swayed her hips and mouthed the lyrics as if singing in slow motion. The two women sat on the makeshift boat, while the red Teletubby pushed the boat, slicing into the crowd of people.

Members of Teater Garasi started taking interest in Indramayu two years ago when they produced
Je.ja.lan, a play inspired by street life in Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Indramayu.

“We’re very interested in culture formed through the meeting of different cultures,” Yudi said.
Given Indramayu’s reputation as a crossing point, it was the logical place to go.

Garasi went to Indramayu in April after the harvest to observe the festivities.

“There was an extraordinary social phenomenon. Post-harvest, Indramayu turns into a center of festivals. Everywhere there are stage performances, in which Tarling-Dangdut becomes the main event,” Yudi said.

For Yudi, the people from Indramayu’s relaxed attitude toward different cultures surrounding them is valuable. “They arbitrarily take from here and there and recreate.”

In today’s interconnected world, an individual is no longer a construct of one single culture, which makes the question of identity becomes less important, Yudi added.

“The question is not about identity. The question is not ‘Who am I?’ but ‘What can we create?’” Yudi went on.

“In fact, many cultures construct the ‘I’. The traditional, the modern, the authentic, the alien — they all construct ‘I’, the subject.”

As in Garasi’s Je.ja.lan “dance-theater-cum-theater of images” production, the audience occupied almost the same space as the actors. Spectators were continually interacting with the actors, as the latter would use the entire theater as their stage.

“I place the audience and actors in the same space. The boundaries between stage, actor and audience become blurred,” Yudi said.

“Because, what is important for me in the two works is dialogue, interaction. It’s not the fiction or the art. I’m underlining communication rather than aesthetics. The play is merely a medium, my way to create dialogue on the issue of the idea that is being conveyed,” he said.

Tubuh Ketiga was indeed a fun dialogue.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Art and Design | Mon, October 18 2010

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