Thu, 15 May 2003

Payung Hitam's 'Awasawas' parodies human tragedy

Blontank Poer The Jakarta Post Bandung

In conjunction with its 20th anniversary, Bandung-based Payung Hitam (Black Umbrella) theatrical group performed their new work, Awasawas (Caution). Just like their previous performances, this play, which was put on stage at the auditorium of the French Cultural Center (CCF) in Bandung last week, was still alluding violence and the military.

Written and directed by Rachman Sabur, this play wishes to remind people of the humanitarian tragedy caused by militarism in various parts of the world. U.S. and British military invasion in Iraq and the plan of the Indonesian military (TNI) to launch a military operation in Aceh, are the two factors that have strongly prompted this group's 52nd production.

A dog, so the story goes, continues to bark in a small kennel under the stage. Wearing boots in its four legs, the dog continues to tap the floor of the stage and always barks upon anybody coming close to it. Donning green camouflage shorts, the dog is put on a chain and is therefore not free to run after its would-be victims.

This canine man is anonymous. There are also three others, always snuggling on the main stage. Having a dagger at the ready, they are ready to pounce at anybody around them. They are fierce and savage.

In another scene, an elderly woman wearing a red costume with a floral motif is walking around with a dog made of iron and having wheels. Always using an umbrella, the woman called "Mother" always sings a semi classic song, walking round the main stage.

Given the creative journey of this group, which has always emphasized body movement as its main characteristics in its theatrical performances, this metaphor of dogs is vulgar. Compared with its other performances such as Kaspar (1995), Merah Bolong Putih Doblong (1999) or Dan Orang Mati/D.O.M. (2001), Awasawas used a lot of dialogs, unlike the non-verbal characteristics of the group's other performances.

The canine man that the Mother always calls Komar and can even hold dialogs and say wise words. He is quiet and is not fond of barking. He is like a trained dog and has been taught enough manners by his mistress.

Rachman Sabur said he wanted to encourage the audience to reflect upon humanitarian values. If a dog can be shaped and taught to have good manners and show tolerance towards its environment, why can't the progress of civilization give assurance that human beings will act wisely?

"Many people, in the name of human rights and world peace, have acted outside the bounds of humanity. The tragedy caused by a military invasion into Iraq and the protracted armed conflict between the Indonesian military and the Free Aceh Movement has led to terror against civilians and togetherness," he told The Jakarta Post.

Sabur obviously wanted to give prominence to the paradox of a canine human and a man's dog this time. That's why he picked up historical episodes of terror by means of military violence, ranging from the Pharaoh, Nero, Hitler, George W Bush, Saddam Hussein to 32 years of Soeharto's rule and the man-eater Sumanto of Purbalingga, Central Java.

The verbal aspect of Awasawas took about two thirds of all the play's scenes and led to questions on the part of the audience. How could the quiet Sabur, whose previous works were mostly nearly devoid of dialogs, be so fussy to the point of being naive this time?

Perhaps, the metaphor of a pair of dancers wearing the costume of the urban middle class with a dagger in their mouths was still acceptable to the audience. But the audience found it hard to accept sentences that the players uttered when reading passages depicting massacres from the times of the Pharaoh to the present era of George W. Bush.

Although this performance was not as good and as impressively interesting as its other performances, this theatrical group deserves accolade for its the exploration of physical movement and the minimum use of words on stage.

Owing to its hard work and creative consistency, this group has received an invitation to perform its masterpiece, Kaspar, a play by German playwright Peter Handke, at Laokoon Festival 2003 in Hamburg, Germany in mid August this year under the directorship of Sabur.