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Theater show about Maluku's Run Island to be performed in New York

Jessicha Valentina
Jessicha Valentina

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Tue, January 24, 2017 | 09:45 am
Theater show about Maluku's Run Island to be performed in New York

A panorama of Run Island in the Banda Islands, Maluku. (Shutterstock/File)

In the 17th century, the Dutch and the British fought over Run Island in the Banda Islands, Maluku, as it was a nutmeg producer. Fast forward to 350 years later and Run Island is nearly unknown. 

A theater show inspired by the history of the island is slated to be performed at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, US, on April 21 to 23. Entitled Islands: The Treaty that Changed the World,  the show revolves around the Treaty of Breda, an agreement between the Dutch and the English to trade Run Island for Manhattan, New York.

The performance follows the ghost of Enrique, a slave of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Enrique, who narrates the story, will introduce the audience to the unheard voices in the history, such as the actual words of the treaty that mentioned all the killings on the island, testimony from a Dutch soldier about brutality on the island and a nutmeg farmer named Kajiri who was born and bred in the forest and felt a strong attachment to the trees. 

Playwright Ron Jenkins, a Wesleyan University professor of theater, told The Jakarta Post that the treaty was so valuable for history as it changed the life of the people on both Run Island and in New York. “[The people of Manhattan] speak English, not Dutch because of this little island in Indonesia,” he said.

(Read also: Indonesian theater steals the show at Asian theater festival)

Islands: The Treaty that Changed the World' was heavily influenced by traditional Indonesian theater, which makes Enrique's role similar to Semar in wayang (Javanese traditional puppet shows) or Tualen in Balinese mask performances. “Enrique will be responsible to make the connection between all those stories to modern life,” added Jenkins.

Jenkins said although the treaty took place 350 years ago, it is still relevant to current life, as it portrays a multinational corporation controlling the lives of poor people. The show's goal is to make the people of Manhattan learn that their history was really connected with Indonesia.

He also hoped that the mayor of New York would make a Run Street on Manhattan. “The way to get to the nutmeg forest on Run Island is through Jl. Manhattan, which is the biggest road on the island. [Run's citizens] understand that Manhattan was part of their history [although] people on Manhattan do not know this."

For the upcoming performance, Jenkins shared that the idea for the play came from Balinese artist Made Wianta, who asked Jenkins to create the show. Islands: The Treaty that Changed the World also features Made's designs.

An illustration by Made Wianta. Made's designs will be included in the performance. (Ron Jenkins/File)

Jenkins collaborated with Indonesian artist I Nyoman Chatra and Acehnese dancer Novirela Minang Sari for the show. In New York, Nyoman will act as Enrique and will also direct the performance on Bali, where it is slated to run in August. Meanwhile, Novirela is the choreographer for the performance.

In addition to the performance at Wesleyan University, the group will also make a small presentation in the Indonesian Consulate General in New York.

On another note, the Banda Culture and Heritage Foundation is currently raising funds to hold the show in Jakarta. “If they manage to raise the funds, Hanung Bramantyo will be the director,” Jenkins said. (kes)

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