Atilah Soeryadjaja: Heart in her art
Andreas D. Arditya
The Jakarta Post
In a few days, Atilah Soeryadjaja's colossal play will be staged at the National Monument (Monas), just in time to celebrate Jakarta's 486th anniversary.
'I have been working nonstop these days; last night I stayed up till dawn,' Atilah said at her home in Menteng, Central Jakarta.
The play, titled Ariah, was not planned to be her second production after the successful epic Javanese play Matah Ati.
'Matah Ati was still going on tour and I was in the middle of research and scriptwriting for my planned second play, when Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo asked me to produce a play for the anniversary. The request was made in January, for a play to be performed in June,' Atilah said.
The 52-year-old mother of six said she was initially unsure about taking the job, telling the governor it was impossible.
'With Matah Ati, I needed two and a half years of preparation, but Ariah will be twice as big ' in terms of stage and number of performers ' and I only have six months,' she said.
'I consulted with my team. Erasing my doubts, they encouraged me to take the challenge, so here I am,' said the director and scriptwriter, whose team of core members includes renowned artistic director Jay Subiakto and show director Inet Leimena.
Ariah will involve at least 300 dancers and musicians, performing on a 3,456-square-meter-wide stage comprising three different heights of 3, 7 and 10 meters. A total of 15,000 spectators are expected for the show, set to be performed from June 28 to June 30.
Born Bandara Raden Ayu Atilah Rapatriati as one of the granddaughters of the Surakarta-based Javanese king Mangkunegara VII and raised in the royal court, Atilah has ancient Javanese traditions and culture running deep in her veins.
However, as a teenager she took an interest in modern modeling, singing and dancing, and decided to pursue language and contemporary arts in Germany after graduating from high school. She ended up in a music company, touring for years in Europe in the 1980's, while still studying music and contemporary dance.
In 1998, she married her second husband, business tycoon Edward Soeryadjaya, and later helped with his business.
'I had been helping my husband with his business when five years ago I decided to quit, knowing that most of my children had grown up and could take over responsibility for the business. They gave me the permission, so I could get back to the calling of my soul, which is art,' she said.
Matah Ati was meant to restore Surakarta's image as one of the country's centers of Javanese culture. Surakarta, commonly known as Solo, made global headlines for all the wrong reasons when terrorist leader Noordin M. Top was killed in his hiding place in the city in 2009.
In preparation for Matah Ati, she joined dancers, choreographers and court musicians to work long hours with her team in Surakarta, combining the contemporary with classical Javanese dance and music, with the help of modern technology.
Matah Ati tells of the life of Rubiah, who became Raden Ayu Kusuma Matah Ati after tying the knot with the first Mangkunegaran king Raden Mas Said, and portrays her as a strong Javanese female. Rubiah was the leader of a 40-strong group of Javanese female warriors.
Similarly, Ariah is based on the legendary tale of Ariah, a Betawi (native Jakartan) female warrior who stepped up against her Dutch oppressors and led fellow farmers in a violent revolt against the colonialists in 1869, when Jakarta was still known as Batavia.
'My aim is for the younger generation to preserve and nurture its historical, traditional and cultural legacy. It will not be easy, because we have to generate their interest first with elements they know well: modern arts,' she said.
'Traditional and contemporary arts are sometimes at the opposite sides of the spectrum, but there are ways they can harmoniously and beautifully meet,' she said.
Atilah said she would keep doing what she does as long as God blessed her with the chance.
'Indonesia has so many beautiful stories and traditions from all its four corners, so there are many things to draw inspiration from,' she said.
And what of her next project?
'It's still a secret, but it will still tell the story of a historical Indonesian female figure. I have completed the script and it's halfway through the concept. I will start auditions for dancers a few months after Ariah, hopefully preparation will take no more than one and a half years.'
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