Horror movies milking the usual images of various types of ghouls and ghosts, as well as scantily clad women, who somehow find their way into the plots, still flood local cinemas.
But the play Goyang Penasaran (The Obsessive Twist) mixes the two elements of horror and sensuality in a slightly different twist, offering the audience a critical look at the issues of sexuality, religion and politics through the story of a village beauty, who is both lusted after and despised.
According to the explanation on the play’s indiegogo.com webpage, which was set up to raise funds to stage the play in Jakarta, Goyang Penasaran is “a commentary on both the euphoria and the crisis of visibility after the downfall of Soeharto’s authoritarian regime”.
“After long suppression by the regime, celebrations of sexuality as well as various expressions of Muslim public piety are now inseparable from the democratization package. On the bleaker side, the public sphere is now crowded by some groups who, in the name of religion, conduct violence against symbols of moral decadence, from dangdut shows to LGBT conferences and festivals,” the site explains.
Goyang Penasaran has been staged several times in Yogyakarta and is slated to play in the Salihara Art Community in South Jakarta, next month, as part of the Women’s Festival.
The play tells the story of Salimah, a dangdut singer in a village. Salimah, both the locals’ object of desire and scorn, has feelings for her old religious teacher, who condemns her because she is regarded as the cause of moral degradation among the village’s men folk. Meanwhile, village head Solihin longs for the day when he can make her his wife.
The play is based on a story written by author and gender expert Intan Paramaditha, who at first included it among the four stories she wrote, along with fellow writers Eka Kurniawan and Ugoran Prasad, for a tribute project to local writer Abdullah Harahap, known for his prolific career in writing horror stories.
“One of the stories I wrote [for the project] was Goyang Penasaran because I was interested in the issue of sexuality and politics at that time. I thought maybe I should write about how sexuality appears in the public space in relation to the issues of religion and the state,” Intan said.
She added that she was also inspired by the banning of live shows by Inul, a dangdut singer whose moves, back in the early 2000s, were criticized by several groups as being too erotic for the public.
Meanwhile, actor, writer and director Naomi Srikandi also had a fascination with horror stories, fueled partly by the movies she had seen in her childhood. “I was at first interested in reading about sexual politics in Indonesian horror stories. The trigger was the movies of [actress] Suzanna, Sundel Bolong frightened me when I was a child, but as I matured it ceased to be scary and instead became funny and annoying and made me wonder about how women are connected with horror and harlot-like images in our society,” she said.
Intan and Naomi then worked together in a symposium in 2009. During the event, they discussed the need for a media to articulate gender and sexuality issues outside the usual sphere of artists and activists.
The idea, according to Naomi, was in line with her and Teater Garasi’s efforts to use art as a media to offer a fresh view on reality.
She became interested in Intan’s story, but the two further modified the script, partly due to pragmatic reasons. For instance, Goyang Penasaran’s cast is limited to four and the role of Salimah is played by a male actor.
“We see this [using a male to play Salimah] as a sort of experiment. When [the audience] see her as sexy and beautiful but also a male, how will they perceive that? Can they sympathize directly with the character or does it create a distance, so that they cannot accept her? If a female plays the role, the viewpoint of the audience seeing Salimah’s body as an object can be directly reproduced. But what happens if [the player] is a man?” Intan said.
She added that so far the play’s performances have brought about “interesting” answers to that question.
Naomi said that the choice of cross-dressing also brought about an interesting chemistry inside the Goyang Penasaran team.
“Ari Dwianto’s [the actor playing Salimah] crossover into ‘the female body’ is our crossover from one point of view to the other,” she said.
Goyang Penasaran’s team includes Agung Kurniawan as the art director, Risky Summerbee as the soundscape composer and Ratri Kartika Sari and Teater Garasi.
Naomi said that the premier of the play in Yogyakarta had been in the Teater Garasi studio, located in a kampung-like location, with nooks and crannies befitting the story’s setting.
“But for the show in Salihara in April 19-20 we will be using a black box, which means a challenge in performing in a space that is highly different from our first show,” she said.
Salimah’s sensuality eventually brings her to her doom, but the story doesn’t end there, because she then seeks revenge.
Perhaps this is where the horror kicks in, but, to some, the story’s daunting part might lie in society’s condemnation of Salimah and her dance moves. Intan says that she will let the audience decide on that matter.