Fri, 30 Jun 2000

Talipot: Journey to the root of the water dance

By Wawan S. Husin

JAKARTA (JP): If you want to laugh and be happy and yet still have something to think about after the curtain has fallen, you may wish to consider attending a performance by Par Le Theater Talipot (Talipot Theater).

In Bandung, Talipot Theater performed at Taman Budaya Jawa Barat on June 22. The performance was part of a cooperation between Taman Budaya and CCF Bandung. The company also performed in Yogyakarta on June 25 and Surabaya on June 27.

What is Talipot? "It is the name of a kind of tree that lives in the Reunion islands," said Eric, who has been the lighting manager for the company for two years. "The most significant characteristics of the tree is that the tree only blooms once in a lifetime," he added with a smile. "And then it's finished."

The Talipot tree seemed to be represented during the performance by the tree-like prop in the back-left corner of the stage. The "tree" was a log with three curly and straight branches, around which the four actors inexhaustibly played during the performance, titled Les Porteurs d'eau (The water carriers).

The performance -- dances and songs -- consisted of 12 scenes, which flowed into one another. Between each scene the lights in the theater went out for about 40 seconds. During these blackouts a voice or other sound often could be heard, allowing the audience to forget the scene was being changed and thus contributing to the feeling that one scene drifted seamlessly into the next.

The 12 scenes combined to tell the story of the Les Porteurs d'eau, and yet each scene told its own little story and thus could be enjoyed on its own. The title of the work seems aptly chosen, as though the water was being poured down on a country full of crises, just to remind people that the fires of chaos could be overpowered by fresh water.

Talipot Theater was founded on Reunion island in l986 and has performed in major cities in South Africa, Europe and Asia. In Indonesia the company performed in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Surabaya.


There are at least three significant characteristics that can be discussed in regards to this performance of Les Porteurs d'eau. The first is the simplicity of the stage. The use of a minimum of simple props is a trademark of the Gotowskian School and can be seen in this production.

The actors were all bare headed and wore nothing but yellow loincloths. If there was music or sound it served simply to emphasize accents. The four actors were very alive and enthusiastic in their actions. They created their own world and this was successfully communicated to the audience, bringing them into this cosmology. The use of only loincloths can be interpreted as the openness of the actors to their audience, their readiness to understand and be understood by others.

The second characteristic of the performance was the actors' mastery of their bodies. Their movements, gestures, voices and self-control were extremely. It is obvious all these things could only have been achieved through hard work, self-discipline, dedication, meditation and also superb vocal training.

While the voices of the actors were not up to the quality of professional singers, their capacity and quality could particularly be seen in the scene The Women and the song Aylakile.

The mastery of body and space control was at its most impressive during the dancing and movements in The Witches with Rods and The War. Regarding the mastery of body, Iman Sholeh, an actor and a lecturer at STSI Bandung, states: "The actors have really mastered their bodies perfectly, and so high is their mastery that they can use their bodies as images, as function and as emotion.

"This kind of mastery level could only be achieved through a long tradition of hard training, meditating and exercising. On top of all this, they have absolute dedication to their own choice of life and in life. This is important and again a cornerstone for those who want to achieve such professionalism."

After the performance, Sholeh said: "The result of training means their bodies can 'speak' to the audience from their inner intention .... Their performance then is evidence of what this long and serious journey (of hard training, etc.) can create."

For me this performance by Talipot Theater was like unto a Bordeaux wine, which is dry and sweet, and yet at the same time strong and powerful.

The third characteristic of the performance which invites contemplation is the actors' ability to communicate singularly and as a group.

The actors' can communicate person-to-person in French and other languages, such as English, and this ability makes communication easier. As a group, their teamwork is evidenced by the ability to achieve the proper reactions from the audience, as well as to immediately respond to the audience. For example, when the audience gave a standing ovation the actors immediately performed the song Aylakile, as though they were not exhausted after this 100-minute performance.

The Water Carriers consists of 12 scenes beginning with In the Beginning is the Monkeys and ending with The Resurrection.

The performance was directed by Phillipe Beleen Baldini, who also wrote the script for the play. The actors were Abdoel Karimau Dit Dada, from Komoro, Faffa (Madagascar) and Jean- Christophe Patin and Thierry Moucazambo (Reunion). The choreographer was Savitri Nair, from India, the music was by Ricky (Madagascar), and the lighting was by Eric Citony of France. This lineup shows the melting (Tali)pot of cultures that makes up this company.

For whom the bell tolls

The group's performances in Indonesia offered an excellent opportunity for young actors and others involved in the theater here to see how a professional company prepares for a tour.

In Indonesia -- so far as I know -- only Rudolh Puspa and his Teater Keliling have really traveled overseas since the 1970s. The tradition, management, total involvement of the members of the company, the belief in the theater as a way of life and profession and the courage to encounter new and foreign cultures are details which must be pondered before such overseas touring can be undertaken.

I think of a number of Indonesian actors, such as Iman Sholeh, Wawan Sofwan, Deden Rengga, Toni Broer, Uwep and Pandura Dea from Bandung, Lanjar (Surakarta), Wani Dharmawan and the actors of Teater Garasi (Yogyakarta), the actors of Teater Ruang and Teater Api (Surabaya), Dindon of Teater Kubur and the actors of Teater SAE (Jakarta). Can they travel the globe in the near future or become members of groups which enjoy worldwide reputations?

The reform era has given birth to pluralism. To be different is no longer a sin. Human dignity is to be searched for and found, and we are no longer as to hand-packed mackerels in a can.

Having been left behind in science, technology and moral problems, can we do something for culture in Indonesia? It is a challenge, particularly after being lullabied for so long by heroical mottoes and bombastic adages.

From the small island called Reunion, Talipot Theater has become a "troubadour of the New Ages", finding people (from other cultures) to share with their brothers and sisters around the world.

Talipot may then be viewed as an offering to be humble and seek understanding. Something like the reunion of spirit and body. They are the sky and the earth. Becoming and being water, flowing peacefully over this Earth. Only once. Like the Talipot tree.