Sat, 25 Mar 2000

Performing arts with a kampong backdrop

Text and photos

By Tarko Sudiarno

MAGELANG, Central Java (JP): Nothing special. That might be the impression one gets after seeing Studio Mendut in Magelang, an hour drive from Yogyakarta. But that was exactly the desired atmosphere for the two-day World Artists' Day Arts Performances held at the studio on March 13 and 14.

The informality and lack of strict protocols made the festival different. A simple mat as the stage and a ricefield and river as the backdrop enhanced the moment, despite the absence of sophisticated lighting and sound system.

The audience did not dress in suits and there was no smell of expensive perfume, as most of those enjoying the performances were local villagers, who treated the event as they would a traditional show.

The only thing that was difficult to ignore was the decorations in the studio, the residence of Sutanto and his Japanese wife Mami Kato, which was dominated by dry straw in various shapes.

According to Sutanto, the man behind the performances, the event, which took place for the first time in 1993, was begun to provide an alternative arts festival.

"Everything was 'arranged', including art performances, such as the Borobudur Festival, which was sponsored by the government. Such festivals need lots of funds and involve many people, but they do not educate people, they're simply projects," Sutanto said.

Traditional and contemporary dances, poetry recitals and musical and theatrical performances dominated the two-day event, which featured local and foreign artists.

Local artists performing at the event included Debby Subiyanti of Surabaya, who staged a dance titled The World; Jemek Supardi of Yogyakarta who put on a pantomime; the Surabaya Youth Music Movement, which performed acoustic music; and puppeteer Slamet Gundono of Tegal, Central Java.

Foreign participants included Ajang Mai of Bangkok, who performed a contemporary dance titled The Mask of the Fool; Gerda Rouhoft of Germany, who performed a dance titled Wer Jammert am Besten; Lee Kon Yew of Singapore; and Okinawa of Japan, whose dance was titled Silent Garden.

This performances at this year's festival were successful and received a warm response from the audience.

When it was first organized on March 14, 1993, the event was called the World Contemporary Cultural Congress. Through his contacts, Sutanto was able to present noted artists and critics, such as Bagong Kussudiardja, Goenawan Mohamad, Nirwan Dewanto and Heri Dono. The event featured informal seminars and contemporary and tradition arts performances staged by reputable and lesser- known artists.

"Then, without spending millions of rupiah, we were able to match government-sponsored festivals," Sutanto said, adding that the artists attended the event at their own expense.

In 1995, the event was held in the same location and ran for three days, and featured various arts performances and cultural discussions.

In 1996, the festival was held at Chulalong Korn University in Bangkok, with artists from 18 countries, including 25 groups from Indonesia. In 1999, the festival was held in Berlin.

Sutanto was unable to attend the festival in Berlin because he was busy staging a folk festival at his studio.

"I didn't attend the festival because there was no more challenge. The situation had changed and there was no more need to struggle. Now I'm concentrating on art activities in the local community," said Sutanto, who also works on numerous other festivals, including the Children's World Cultural Festival, Women's Rebellion Festival, Street Singing Festival and painting exhibitions.

Sutanto said he held the World Artists' Day Arts Performances this year not to show his resistance, but to empower artists who were reluctant to take part in commercial activities and did not often receive the opportunity to perform in public.