Efforts to preserve Indonesia’s national heritage and, to some degree, transform it to stay in tune with modern times have increased in recent years.
Take one of Indonesia’s most beloved traditions, the wayang. Despite the traditional Javanese puppet theater being recognized as one of Unesco’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, international recognition has not necessarily translated into a boost in popularity in its home country.
To generate more interest toward wayang, the Lontar Foundation is collaborating with Orkes Simfoni Jakarta to present “Wayang in Symphony,” an orchestra based on a wayang story, at Teater Jakarta in November.
Kestity Pringgoharjono, the executive director of the Lontar Foundation, said the concert was the first of its kind, since wayang was traditionally accompanied by gamelan instruments. Kestity added that she was confident that the show, which is part of Lontar’s 25th anniversary celebrations, would raise people’s curiosity.
“It is going to be a pure classical orchestra symphony without gamelan,” said Kestity, adding that she hoped the concert could become an annual event.
The orchestra will be presented without real puppets, but poet Jose Rizal Manua, who is the director of the show, will read excerpts from a wayang story entitled “Makutharama” (“Rama’s Crown”). The tale follows the lives of two rivals, Pandawa and Kurawa, who compete against each other in mastering eight leadership traits. Whoever wins will be able to rule the kingdom of Hastinapura.
“It could be similar to Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons,’ ”Kestity said.
According to puppet-master Rohmad Hadiwijoyo, these traits belong to local wisdom that has long been missing from education.
“We are now lacking in leadership in this country because we have stopped taking local wisdom seriously,” he said.
Jose, who is in charge of presenting the audio and visual for the orchestra, said his readings would be delivered in Indonesian. Jose, who was a member of Putu Wijaya’s Teater Mandiri in 1975 and Rendra’s Bengkel Teater in 1977, established his own award-winning theater troupe, Teater Tanah Air, in 1988.
The Lontar Foundation has also published books containing the entire story of “Makutharama” in Javanese, Indonesian and English, sold separately.
While the orchestra seems to have taken on this theme of leadership at a particularly auspicious time, given the currently changing political map in Jakarta, Kestity said it was purely coincidence as they had been planning the program for five years.
Neneng Rahardja, the president director of Orkes Simfoni Jakarta, said she never thought that she would be in charge of a wayang-related event.
“I never liked wayang,” she said. “I always thought it was a hillbilly thing.”
But when conductor Yudianto Hinupurwadi told Neneng that gamelan was merely used as a musical illustration to accompany the wayang show, Neneng came up with the idea to use an orchestra with classical instruments instead. In reviving wayang, Neneng said she decided to use her own approach.
Neneng said she was initially thinking along the lines of Romeo and Juliet by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and wondered if the Orkes Simfoni Jakarta could ever do the same. In the end, however, it was clear that to attract modern viewers, they would eventually have to include modern culture.
“It doesn’t matter that it’s not the same with the original wayang show because we’re not aiming to appear traditional,” she said.
The orchestra is set to perform on Nov.24 at Teater Jakarta in Taman Ismail Marzuki. It is sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank and Djarum Foundation.
Tickets are available on rajakarcis.com and prices range from Rp 300,000 to Rp 1 million ($30 to $100).
Read more: Jakarta Globe