Sat, 04 Jan 2003

Festival showcases rich heritage of masks

Tarko Sudiarno, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta

As people, we interact with others, playing different roles and requiring different masks in the process. When these masks are transformed into art, the variety of expressions are countless.

This impression came to mind during Mask Interpretation, the 2002 Mask Festival last month in Yogyakarta, which featured the traditional and contemporary art of masks.

The festival was borne out of a desire to keep records of the art of masks through its development and changes with time. There are plenty of archaeological and anthropological records tracing the history of masks, starting from the discovery of ancient manuscripts to various studies on expressions related to their use in different parts of the world. These records will provide the masks, which have a history that may be as old as mankind, with a clear historical description.

During the three-day event, diverse forms were presented, taking the participants to the adventurous world of the art of masks.

Dance artist Martinus Miroto of the Banjarmili art studio in Yogyakarta, staged his choreography, Megatruh (Sad Songs), which was inspired by the total dedication showed by his dance master Sasmitadipura. All his life, Sasmitadipura was known as a great performer and master of classical dance at the Yogyakarta Palace, and he devoted his entire life to art.

At the festival, Mugiyono Kasido of Surakarta performed his creation, titled Bagaspati (From the Soul of the Sun). Known for having a flexible body, the dancer, who has performed in many countries, was inspired by the sun in creating his work.

During his creation, he portrayed how the sun is an inexhaustible source of life to human beings. The sun serves as a means of reflection and offers a valuable lesson on the meaning of honesty, intensity and the significance of knowing, without pretension, when to stop doing something. He ended his show by turning his body the way the earth moves around the sun.

Other contemporary mask dancers that performed their works in the event included Hanny Herlina of Jakarta in The Flapping of White Wings, Didik Nini Thowok of Yogyakarta in Pejambon Dance and Ida Manu Tranggana of Yogyakarta in Gray Mask.

Traditional mask dances presented during the festival included the Barangan-style mask dance of Klaten, Central Java, featuring the story of Joko Bluwo. This group captured the audience's attention as some of its members were elderly.

This group was unique from others as some of the dancers also played in a gamelan traditional orchestra. The host paid the group members right on stage and once the money was in their hands, it was distributed among them right away.

Another traditional dance troupe, Yogyakarta's Regol Gunungan of Yogyakarta, presented a mask performance like a Yogyakarta puppet show, with changes made to certain parts. For instance, the performers -- the dancers and the gamelan players -- were involved in intimate communication with the audience throughout the show.

The festival had planned to feature a variety of mask dances, such as the Jauk mask dance from Bali, the Cupak of West Nusa Tenggara, the Hudok of East Kalimantan and the mask tradition of South Kalimantan, but not all of the performers were available to perform the dances.

"Two mask dance troupes, from South Kalimantan and East Kalimantan, failed to show up because they could not get flights to Java," said Clink Sugiarto, the event's performance coordinator.

The Jauk mask dance troupe from Bali performed two dances at the event: the Kembang Girang (Merry Flower) -- a newly created piece taken from the Balinese Janger traditional dance, which illustrates young girls' happiness, and Sunda Upasunda, a story about two arrogant giants wanting to control the world.

A discussion on the art of masks also took place at the festival, featuring mask observer Endo Suanda of Bandung and St. Sunardi, the chairman of Sanata Dharma University's program of cultural and religious studies in Yogyakarta.