TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – In “Yang Fana Adalah Waktu, Kita Abadi,” (Time is Transient. We are Eternal), the latest performance by Indonesian contemporary dance and theater group Teater Garasi, actors ooze fake blood, hack at real meat and dance amid billowing discotheque smoke that eludes alternately to the clouds of heaven, Jakarta’s smog, and gaseous insecticide.
The drama, which the brochure says, “tries to delve into how new ideologies, religiosity and identity post-1998 have created both new and latent tension and violence,” is unsettling – a reminder that under the current, pleasant state of Indonesia, there is a dark, unresolved history.
As production director Yudi Ahmad Tajudin explained at a press conference Monday night ahead of the play’s premiere at the Universitas Gajah Mada cultural center on June 23 and 24, the “wounds” of terrorism and violence against minorities and women that ensued after the coup that Indonesia experienced in 1965, and the national riots in 1998 after the fall of then-president Suharto, are still fresh today.
“The families of those killed in 1965 are still stigmatized,” he said. “Communists are still hated and religious violence still persists.”
The abstract dance production is framed by the story of how one family celebrates two lebarans, the festival at the end of the Ramadan fasting month when people return to their native village.
At the first celebration, the mother cum narrator introduces her family, who battles many of issues of present-day Indonesia.
Seated in a plastic chair at a long table with gold trim is her bearded oldest son who spends his day cooped in his room, surfing the Internet and watching television. “In the late morning, he reads Islamic teachings, at night he watches pornography.”
Next to him is the narrator’s daughter who went to Hong Kong to work and returned “not with money to renovate the house or send her mother on pilgrimage to Mecca” but sank her earnings into a boob job, her mother laments, “a pillow for a chest.”
Now the daughter wants to go to Jakarta to be a soap opera star. At the mention of her daydreams, the buxom girl in an aquamarine, silk bodice, jumps up. Her face transmogrifies into a starlet’s pout, “why,” she asks the audience, “would you lie to me…”
The youngest son has a bullhorn speaker for a face. Every time his mother mentions him, he places a hand at his brow in a soldier’s salute, or sets both hands at the base of the bullhorn and does the Muslim call to prayer, “Allah-o-Akbar…”
The husband is a caricature of a reactionary Javanese man. He wears a checkered sarong common to men in the kampong, but also dons a cowboy hat and braces a shotgun across his knees when sitting. He raises the gun and shoots often, and unpredictably.
A key element of lebaran is the sharing of the meat among friends. The family on stage offers a disturbing rendition of this ceremony by tearing apart the leg of a horse. They attack the limb with zeal, jumping on the table, sticking their tongues out like dogs, climbing over one another to get more. At one point, they freeze mid-food-frenzy and the director comes on stage and dumps a bucket of gooey red guts over the leg, offering a disturbing portrait of the current state of tradition, the Indonesian family unit, and society in general.
This is 2002. The next time the audience sees the family, it’s six years later. The mother narrates that the eldest son is in Afghanistan (“the police say he is a terrorist”), and the daughter is in Jakarta pursue her dreams of stardom. The father marches between imaginary neighbors, asking them to accept real hunks of raw meat. But no one accepts.
Frustrated, the actor who plays the father (Agunawan Maryanto) finds the actor who plays his youngest son (Ari Dwianto) at a makeshift karaoke set, alone amid rows of plastic chairs, a music video rolling in the background. Whether as his father, or as a random agent of violence, Maryanto raises his gun and shoots Dwianto multiple times, sending the dancer into a beautiful, staggering death jig. Prop plastic bags filled with red liquid hidden under his shirt burst, drenching his sides and legs in fake blood.
As a voiceover talks about clouds and heaven, a man in an exterminator suit walks through spraying opaque plumes of what seems like disinfectant. Dwianto and his chair get raised above the clouds. Below, dancers miming motorists drive through the mist, like Jakarta commuters unfazed by choking smog. Modern Indonesia has been sterilized, cleansed of the violence from its past and the new incidents festering everyday.
In one disturbing dream sequence, a billboard print of grass is laid flat on the stage to depict rural Indonesian life. A man in a Tele-tubby suit and mask stabs at a steak. In a direct reference to the widespread killings of 1965 and 1998, actors dressed in army fatigue do a dance. They freeze at various moments, each time one of them lies prone. The others carry the sleeping body to dump in a pit, or mill around it with farm implements ready to strike their napping compatriot.
Then, just as suddenly, the actors break into a smiling aerobics routine, as if there was an offstage instructor chirping, “onwards!”