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'Wayang Orang Bharata' strives to preserve traditional culture

Ni Nyoman Wira
Ni Nyoman Wira

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, July 1, 2016  /  04:34 pm
'Wayang Orang Bharata' strives to preserve traditional culture

The performance of 'wayang orang' from Wayang Orang Bharata at Bharata Purwa building, Jakarta, on Saturday (18/06/2016) (The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)

The Jakarta Post paid a visit to the Bharata Purwa building in Senen, Central Jakarta, to watch Wayang Orang Bharata, the one and only wayang orang (human puppet) troupe in the metropolis. The troupe has been preserving Indonesian traditional art by holding a wayang orang show every Saturday evening, and this particular performance is titled Remong Batik.

During the four-hour performance, every actor with a wayang role only speaks in Javanese. Gamelan is still used as the main musical instrument and the storyline is mostly based on the Ramayana or Mahabharata saga.

Arjuna and Banowati on Wayang Orang Bharata show which was held at Bharata Purwa building, Jakarta, on Saturday (18/06/2016)(The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)

Slameto, one of the advisors for the show’s director, feels something is missing if they don't stick to its origins regarding language. “We only speak Indonesian when it comes to funny parts,” he says. Audience members who do not speak Javanese will still be able to understand the dialogue anyway, as subtitle in Bahasa Indonesia projected above the stage help in describing what is going on.

At only Rp. 40,000 (US$3) per ticket, audiences can watch the performance in an air-conditioned venue. Unlike other theater rules that prohibit food and drinks during performances, the Bharata Purwa theater allows its audience to order food from nearby street vendors and enjoy the meal while watching the show. Just like in old-time cinemas, the sellers will come into the theater to serve you.

The use of Javanese language onstage is not an obstacle for Endah Rukmini, one of Wayang Orang Bharata’s loyal viewers, to enjoy the show. However, she thinks younger actors should try to be more believable in their roles. 

“I think the young actors have a lot more to learn about wayang. That way, the audience will see that they are staying true to the wayang character. If they do this, they will attract more viewers," she said.

The actors are getting ready before Wayang Orang Bharata show at Bharata Purwa building, Jakarta, on Saturday (18/06/2016)(The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)

Established in 1972, Wayang Orang Bharata has mesmerized audiences in the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Turkey and France. They have also performed at International Ramayana festivals as a part of a cultural mission from the Indonesian government.

(Read also: Spectacular shows takes audiences across archipelago)

The troupe, which consists of over 140 members, relies on ticket sales for their day-to-day livelihood. They are also supported by the government via welfare. “Every year we are given welfare assistance [by the government], but the amount is not enough for our well-being. So we also depend heavily on ticket sales aside from welfare,” Slameto admits. Private companies also contribute to Wayang Orang Bharata's viability, although the contributions are not regular.

(Read also: 'Wayang orang' performance goes beyond expectation)

Slameto lamented the little attention given by the government to arts and culture, "In Jakarta, we have a lot of variety in cultural performances. We're not the only one. There are Lenong troupes aside from us. It's a dilemma, if the government only helps one, the others will be jealous. While the truth is all of us want to sustain traditional arts from extinction. To preserve these cultures, we need monetary assistance." 

The actors are practicing before Wayang Orang Bharata show at Bharata Purwa building, Jakarta, on Saturday (18/06/2016)(The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)

He also noted the importance of regeneration within the troupe, "My brother lives in Germany, at the Indonesian consulate. He teaches traditional Indonesian dances, dalang (wayang puppeteer) and karawitan. He's been there for more than ten years doing what he’s doing. People outside Indonesia appreciate our culture, while here we're worried about the next generation who are not interested in what we call traditional culture."

Yuwono Aryo Saloko, an actor in the troupe echoed Slameto's feelings on the little governmental support as one of their main problems, however he's adamant about preserving the art, “Well, it is hard to live [with the small monetary assistance]. But we will still protect this culture from extinction,” he says.

However hard the economic situation is for the troupe members, the spirit is high, especially in welcoming a new generation of audiences. Teguh Amiranto, an actor who plays Prabu Baladewa, said, "I think it's important to attract the younger generation to the art first. We can just focus on the performance first, so they can enjoy wayang from the show aspect. If they can already enjoy the show, they will have an appreciation for the philosophy of the story." (asw)

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