Fri, 23 May 2003

Kalacakra brings local production to Australia

Dewi Anggraeni, Contributor, Melbourne, Australia

We only have to look around to realize that we have a wealth of creativity in Indonesia. Thus, in any city in the world where there are over 10,000 Indonesian students, there is bound to be an undercurrent of creative swell seeking manifestation.

Kalacakra, an artistic and performing group consisting of 20 Indonesian students from various universities, is one such manifestation in Melbourne, Australia.

Forming a group may not be so difficult, but to have the drive, self-discipline and skill to stage a marketable production is certainly no mean feat.

In its 2003 production, Ambyar (Bursting into Fragments), performed first on March 29 at the Clocktower Centre in Moonee Ponds, the group was able to present a wide range of numbers, from a blending of modern and traditional dances, poetry recitals, monologues, a blending of martial arts and dance, accompanied by a live orchestra of percussion, drum, keyboard and stringed instruments, and a beautifully simple play of lighting.

The scene and ambience of a lone vocalist accompanying the opening number of Prakata (Prologue), which builds up into a full story, eerily brings the audience into the heart of the performance, whose general theme is the unraveling of Indonesia's history from the early 20th century, through the independence period, up to the current reform era.

Ambyar does not romanticize this history. In fact, each number expresses protests and often sharp criticisms. The fact that the group members are able to unself-consciously bring into the choreography the many arts of Indonesia, such as aspects of Topeng Cirebon (Cirebon Mask) into the dance number Poet, shows how the performers have absorbed the different arts of the nation into their psyche.

Ambyar is a team effort. Each piece has its own choreographer- cum-director, yet the overall production does not appear patchy or amateurish. The mischievous spirit of the young artists is felt throughout the different numbers, lending them lightness and freshness.

One particular mischievous item is the monologue Pempek, performed skillfully and energetically by Fanny Hanusin, where the topic of food merges seamlessly into other topics such as issues of being of a minority, the superficiality of the prose of some pop music and individual tastes, and is underlined throughout with a big dose of humor. Pempek is fish dumpling served with sauce, a famous food from Palembang, South Sumatra.

The March performance made such a mark that Asialink of the University of Melbourne invited Kalacakra to stage the show at the Sydney Myer Asia Centre theater on May 9. And some sponsors are reportedly arranging to bring Ambyar to Sydney.

In the May 9 performance, some modifications were made in conformation with the different stage, and in consideration of the different makeup of the audience.

It was heartening to see that the performers were versatile enough to present their speaking parts in English, while making use of multimedia technology where it was impracticable to present an item live, indicating some professionalism. However, they need to spend more time in planning the modified production, in order not to lose any of the subtle ambience and soul of the original show.