It is late September 2010 and I am sitting in Miroto’s studio in Yogyakarta, Teater Garasi’s rehearsal space for their performance Tubuh Ketiga (The Third Body). It is the final full run-though before the group takes the performance to Jakarta. Friends have been invited to watch and to stay afterwards to comment. Yogya is Garasi’s rehearsal space. While they still perform in Yogya, their performances these days are increasingly produced for Jakarta, where the money is. Tubuh Ketiga has been commissioned by Salihara in Jakarta, which is now the major producer in the country for experimental arts.
Yogya is the major exporter of theatre and performance to Jakarta. Directors and actors travel back and forth on cheap flights to work with other artists there, and this mobility of creative talent has increased markedly over the past three or four years. Yogya provides a nurturing environment of fellow artists and a supportive creative community. Life is much cheaper, but as the income disparity between Jakarta and Yogya widens, many groups often choose not to do a local season because the box office will never cover costs, and finding sponsorship is time-consuming. Or they give just one or two public performances in Yogya, the costs of which are subsidised by the Jakarta performances. Yogya is where performances are developed and given a trial run, and also where local audiences benefit by seeing performances funded with Jakarta money. In the case of this open dress rehearsal of Tubuh Ketiga/ Third Body, there are about 40 people, including Yogya performers and artists, budding actors, some students and academics, and followers of their work including a few foreigners like me. Yogya, I think to myself sitting there in Miroto’s studio, is Garasi’s ‘in-between’ space where ideas, images and inspiration from outside are reworked to take to another outside. To somewhere else.
‘Somewhere else’ is also an integral presence in much of Garasi’s work. In Tubuh Ketiga, it is small town West Java – where the urban and rural rub against each other, where migrant workers come and go, where traditional performances jostle for position with tarling (a form of popular hybrid music originally with guitar and flute), dangdut, ‘organ tunggal’, and loudspeakers blaring advertisements; and where everyone dances in the cracks of globalism and encroaching Islamist authoritarianism. Everyone and everything is on the move.
Teater Garasi’s performance of Tubuh Ketiga brought the frenetic energy, movement and cacophony of post-harvest Indramayu to the stage in Jakarta – to the small enclosed space at Salihara, in October 2010. I flew to Jakarta, eager to see the performance after watching the rehearsal in Yogya. I wanted to experience the performance in its intended venue and before its intended audience. To me, Tubuh Ketiga (with its subtitle Perayaan berada di antara, ‘On embracing the in-between’ ) vividly [re]presented the juxtaposition, collision and crossing of eras, values, and ‘cultures’ that I sense in Java (I say Java and not Indonesia because I am speaking of my own experience which is predominantly in Java), and the intense performativity of everyday life which somehow, in a way I can’t quite put my finger on, seems to ease people’s negotiation of these collisions.
The quality of performativity can also have chillingly negative flipside in another kind of collision – an ease with violence which Joshua Oppenheimer’s film ‘The Act of Killing’ about killers reenacting their roles in the 1965-66 anti-communist frenzy captures brilliantly. While his documentary is about killers in Medan, north Sumatra, the easy manipulation of people to perform violent acts, and the ease with which those violent actors can distance themselves from their performance, is equally true of Java. The ‘in-between’ is not just an innocent place. But Garasi’s Tubuh Ketiga is not focussing on the dark side.
Indramayu is geographically and culturally an in-between place, where central Java, west Java and Cirebon meet. Linguistically and culturally mixed, urban and rural, it is also within striking distance of the metropolises of Bandung and Jakarta. Over April 2010, Garasi members went there for short periods of time, attending local celebrations that happen seasonally when people have money and the weather is clement; talking to performers, walking around and soaking up the atmosphere of the place. The performance they fashioned from this experience is a distillation of the voices, sounds and images they experienced.
The hour-long performance was made up of a series of multi-layered performances that began before we entered the theatre. The entrance was decorated with coconut fronds, as though for a wedding. Arriving ‘guests’ were given souvenirs, signed the guest book, and walked past the welcoming line of hosts. Automatically, we did what is expected of guests on arrival at a wedding; we formed an orderly line and shook hands with people in the welcoming line. Through the door, we were at a village wedding in Indramayu; an MC speaking on a bad sound system directing the guests; the bridal dias, adorned with flashing lights; and in the corner, with more flashing lights, a guitarist and electric keyboard-player performing a jazzed up version of ‘Für Élise’.
But framing was also clearly evident from the start. Above the bridal dias was a sign, a slight adaptation of the usual ‘Welcome to Your New Life Together’ at weddings. This one added ‘in the era of globalization’. And the chairs for the bride and groom on the bridal dias were empty. The core of the wedding was absent.
This was fun, familiar mayhem, but apart from the more obvious Garasi framing, we were at least one level of distance from it – the distance of class. The relatively wealthy Jakarta urbanites in the audience might go to such a wedding – perhaps their driver’s, their maid’s or the office boy’s – but it would never be their wedding, or their children’s, or even their friends’. It is an event they might participate in occasionally – as a guest, and a high-status guest at that. As for me, if I went to such a wedding (perhaps taken along by a friend because I happened to be in the area, and not necessarily because of a connection to the bride or groom’s family), as a foreigner I would automatically be assigned the role of very high status guest – a role I would then have to play graciously, like it or not.
The opening of Tubuh Ketiga drew attention to the way theatrical performance shapes a sense of community, a self-aware spectatorship. We are, and are not, guests. We are, and are not, at a wedding together. In this space, now, we belong. We belong because together we know we do not fully belong. We are in between. We belong together in our sense of in-betweenness. In the distance of fun. But here at this wedding-twice-removed in Salihara, was I as a foreigner perhaps more acutely aware of the community-making of this performance? Then again, not just any foreigner; as an in-between foreigner, familiar with the signs. Suppose I could not read the signs? Suppose I was unfamiliar with the codes? Would I sense this wedding as just a restaged event? Where and how does one recognize the performed, I wondered. What kind of pre-experience is necessary? And how does that recognition make one more aware of one’s own role playing, like performing the foreigner?
No time for reflection. There is an interruption. A life-size bright red Telly Tubby is pushing a boat with a speaker blaring electronic noise through the audience. We have to stand and scatter. This is the first of many such interruptions throughout the performance – the juxtapositions of ‘globalization’. Everything at once. Audience members have to physically change their point of view.
Now the curtains behind the bridal dias are drawn open to reveal another performance, on yet another level. Behind the wedding curtain is an elaborate painted backdrop on three walls – the kind of theatrical backdrop you find at traditional theatre like ketoprak. It is a brightly coloured depiction of rice fields at harvest time. Realistic in a conventionally theatrical way. An idealized reality. Clean. A sort of time warp. Then you notice that one wall has a factory painted into the exotic scene, and in another corner there is a large passenger ship. These are incorporated into the familiar, stylized picture, no more or less exotic than the golden rice fields. Rather like the glass paintings you find in Java, where planes and flying mythical creatures are put side by side.
The performance moves more into story-telling mode, with women taking the major roles, both as narrators and actors in the many stories performed. It is women who go away from the village to earn money in the cities as performers, or abroad as migrant workers, leaving their families behind. And while the narrated voices depict this as resigned acceptance to the fact that the old ways – like harvesting rice – will never bring in enough money, the women themselves come across as powerful agents of their bodies and their lives.
Throughout the performance, language and movement flow between first person and third person. Between talking about and acting as. Between being oneself and being someone else. The actors too are approaching the performance from different places. Wangi Indriya, the topeng dancer and singer from Indramayu who is guest star with Garasi in Tubuh Ketiga, is coming to this performance from the opposite direction to the Garasi actors – as a professional ‘traditional’ artist now adapting her performance to Garasi’s theatrical style. The guitarist, Rasmadi, is also from Indramayu where he performs ‘tarling-dangdut’. Another actress, Hani Herlina, is somewhere in between Wangi Indriya and the Garasi actors. She is Sundanese and studied both with Ibu Wangi and at the arts institute (IKJ) in Jakarta.
And one vignette leads to another, moving between natural movement and stylized movement; between speech, song, narration, and stylized narration of Indonesian poetry. The harvest work turning into games; the games becoming stylized movement. Wangi sings a tarling song with Rahmadi accompanying her.
Then suddenly another interruption. Sacks of things – plastic bottles and such – drop from the ceiling. It looks like rubbish. But, like the sacks in the harvest scene which were recycled imported sugar sacks from Thailand, there are things here that can be used. Wangi finds high-heeled shoes and a plastic kind of Darth-Vader mask with tassles attached like the Cirebon mask dance costume. It all goes together in new combinations.
Attention is suddenly drawn elsewhere. An actor on the yellow boat pushed by the Telly Tubby enters behind the audience. We have to move. She speaks directly to the audience in poetic Indonesian narrating the atmosphere of celebrations in the harvest season, and the plight of migrant workers leaving to find work in Saudi Arabia. Later I discover this is a poem by Garasi actor Gunawan Maryanto. An actor is taking photos of himself in sexy poses with his mobile phone. A singer is putting on make up and this is being shown simultaneously on a video screen. The looping between action and representation is closing. Then the actors start singing Bjork’s ‘It’s Not Up to You’. I can’t work this out.
A ronggeng dancer is performing, moving among the audience. She is showered with money. The narration is melancholy – in the voice of the man waiting for her. A man is waiting on a busy road for her to come home from the city.
It is about now in the performance that I begin to form my own interpretation of the barrage of images and sounds. I am making my own connections from things dropped down on me. Putting things together and picking up my own meanings. The vignette is now movement – actors walking past each other and nodding greetings, and making the polite gesture used when passing in front of another person, a slight crouch with the furthest arm held against the body, dropped straight down towards the ground. The movement starts naturally enough, but soon turns into a kind of stylized dance. It is a movement and gesture I know well in Java, and sometimes have to check myself from performing at inappropriate occasions (like in Jakarta, or worse, overseas). I link it back to the wedding at the beginning of the performance, thinking about ceremony, gesture and learned behaviour. And once again, I think about being a foreigner – about having to learn codes and self-consciously adopt them – and wonder when it is that certain actions, movement or speech become ingrained, no longer consciously performed.
The ‘greeting dance’ as I call it, encapsulates something I sense strongly in Indonesia – the performativity of daily life. I am making connections. I think of Ward Keeler’s wonderful book on Javanese wayang kulit (Javanese Shadow Plays, Javanese Selves) – written in and about another era – yet his discussion with dalangs and his astute perception of child-rearing in a village near Klaten in the 1970s seems to capture a link that still rings true between the instilling of social self-awareness in children and the performance of wayang. It is an awareness of the layering of the performed self. Keeler shows how this awareness develops very early, with family relations and language aquisition – for in the 1970s the use of stratified Javanese language in the home was still common, unlike today. Children learned at a young age to be self-conscious about their speech and aware of their bearing in different situations and with different people. Times have changed. Family relations and language have changed. We are indeed in a ‘globalization era’, but social codes remain strong. Many theatrical forms in Java today (and on Indonesian television) play on the predictability and the self-awareness of learned social behaviour. Comedy is grounded in it.
But comedy is usually about deliberate transgression of the codes, or showing people switching on and off, or inadvertently using the wrong code at the wrong time or place. This performance of Tubuh Ketiga is not comedy. There are many comic moments in the performance, but it seems to me that Tubuh Ketiga is displaying the space that performativity allows – the space of self-observation – rather than using that space for comedy. It is showing how this space infuses difficult negotiations of life ‘in the era of globalization’. Or it is to me, at least.
The experience of the migrant worker, for example. This is the underbelly of globalization – the export of workers. The narration in Tubuh Ketiga tells us of the difficult decision the Indramayu women make to leave their families. Of how they become migrant workers as a last resort, so their children can have a better life. It tells of the women working in Saudi Arabia and returning home once every five years – in time to finance another family celebration, to build the dream house, and to shower money on the family.
And now there is a brilliant visual depiction of this: the women bringing in the money, their dreams and the sacrifices they make for them. Money showers from the ceiling. The three female actors collect the notes and make shapes with them – one pastes money on the wall to make the outline of a house. The other two make an outline of a bed, and one of the women lies in it. Legs akimbo. Legs straightened by the older woman. Brought neatly back within the frame. Then a male-female couple dances. Together, and then apart. Reunion and separation. Separation and reunion. Melancholy movement.
This gradually turns into the stylized movement of martial art (silat) – and other dancers enter and take over. We are now at another celebration. There is narration again, telling us about the woman who has just returned from Saudi Arabia. The actor talks to us about her in the third person – about how she has worked for five years to save money for this celebration of her son’s circumcision. The narration pulls the audience back together as a group as we listen to the story. Throughout the performance we are constantly being moved around – physically within the space of Salihara, and also having to shift our viewpoint. We are drawn in and out of the multi-layered performance, every now and then being made to step back to see it all as a whole. Like now. This reminds me of my experience of watching Javanese wayang kulit, and the way the dalang’s narration can do this – pause, step back and give a detached panoramic view, before zooming back inside the action again. It can be a dizzying journey.
And then another interruption. The detachment goes further still. The ‘MC’ from the wedding now steps centre stage and stops the silat performance to make some announcements. The actors all stand around listening too. ‘Sorry to interrupt the performance, ladies and gentlemen, but there are some important announcements. Would (and here he names someone well known who is present in the audience) please go to the carpark and meet his girlfriend who is waiting for him. And would the driver of the car with the number plate xxxx please move the car because it is blocking the exit.’). After a split second of calculation (is this for real?) the audience roars with laughter. We are zooming back, drawn into the sense of fun. We are together with the actors in the here and now in this space.
And then, just as suddenly, we are back again in the other performance. We are the guests at the returning migrant worker’s party for her son’s circumcision. There is a tarling-dangdut band and dancer on a dias with flashing lights. ‘Assalamu’alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh!’ the sexy dangdut singer screams out, gyrating all the while in her short shiny dress with cowboy boots. Some people in the audience start dancing. The singer moves around to dance with the audience. This is familiar to us all. A kind of crazy celebratory mixture of eroticism and piety.
But the gaiety is interrupted. There is a melancholy side to it. In another corner of the audience comes Telly Tubby pushing the boat, with Wangi singing. It literally cuts through the space. And the other actors slow down into stylized movement and one by one, collapse. The two contrasting moods almost collide. A loud joyous procession of the chair for the circumcised boy bursts in to interrupt the melancholy singing and electronic music, and we also hear a third voice commentary. This narration is commentary – not a story about a character or episode on stage, but stepping back to comment on the scene as a whole. I note only the words ‘tak ada lagi yang tunggal’ (there is no longer anything on its own). Later I find it is a text about the ‘rhizome world’, written by the director Yudi Ahmad Tajudin. About how people are now interconnected, like rhizomes underground, popping up simultaneously at different places. But at the performance I find the text difficult to take in. It is impossible for me to focus. So much is happening at once. Things are popping up everywhere.
Then – an interruption to stop everything. The loudspeakers of the mosque. A clutch of loud speakers appears above, centre stage. Stylized cacophony like the call to prayer of many mosques blaring at once. And the stage goes black. Then quiet. Very quiet.
But it is not the end for us yet. The actors pull back the painted backdrop. They change out of their costumes into everyday clothes. And we hear voices in the semi-dark. It is a recording of two voices. I recognize the voices as Garasi members Yudi, the director, and Ugoran Prasad, a member of the dramaturg team of this production. They are having a theoretical discussion about hybridity and cultural identity. We in the audience are being pulled back even further now to a frame outside of everything in this room. I later find out that the discussion is actually a spoken version of an email exchange that took place between Yudi and Ugo as the performance was conceptualized.
They are talking about hybridity and syncreticism as cultural empowerment – and their Indonesian is sprinked with English terminology. Their speech is between Indonesian and English, a theorizing that is taking place between languages. They talk about openness to change found in places like Indramayu, and the kind of ‘cosmopolitanism’ of marginal coastal culture this represents. They muse as to whether this openness to change is ‘strategic’ or ‘inherent’. Then there is the comment ‘kita tidak se-empowered itu’ – ‘we are not as empowered as that’. Who is the ‘we’ here, I wonder? ‘We’ non-marginal coastal culture Indonesians? ‘We’ talking who are looking at this from a theoretical distance? ‘We’ the audience? And the ‘we’ (kita) seems to keep shifting. The discussion moves on to earlier manifestations of concern in Indonesia about the direction of ‘our culture’ – ‘kebudayaan kita’ which I now take to mean ‘Indonesian culture’, and mentions the 1940s polemic about cultural identity, and globalization in a different historical context. This is then compared to the contemporary situation, and the narrowing politics of identity and identification made in terms of the state and religion (negara dan umat).
And now the ‘we’ seems to get wider still. ‘And this is not just Indonesia’, the voice says, ‘This is happening to all of us’ (kita semua).’
The lights come up – and the actors take their bow.
I walk out of the theatre and chat with old friends. There is a good buzz about the performance, but I wonder how others have related to it. I feel as though I have been in a deep labyrinth of opening doors – performance upon performance.
In Yogya a few weeks later, I chat with Yudi. I tell him how I found Tubuh Ketiga captured a link between everyday performativity, local theatre, and openness to change. He talks about Homi Bhaba. I am not fond of cultural theory, and find Homi Bhaba’s language pretentious and impenetrable, but to write this essay I go back and read what Bhaba had to say about the ‘Third Space’. And I find his description of the interstices between colliding cultures, a liminal space ‘which gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognizable, a new area of negotiation of meaning and representation’ helps to explain my own reaction to ‘Tubuh Ketiga’. The performance made me acutely aware of my spectatorship – to what was happening on stage, but also to my own in-between status as ‘inside-outsider’, or ‘outside-insider’, the foreign observer or ‘someone else’ living in Java.
For being a foreigner is clearly a negotiation of meaning, a condition of being simultaneously in a place where one is at home and not at home. One can be more or less aware of it. One can exploit it. One can suffer from it. And it can also offer a creative stimulus of distance. We learn to perform in the right way and make choices about doing so, but we are outsiders. Being a foreigner must surely be one of the most self-aware states of outsidership. Even if, the longer you stay in a place, the more you forget this. Or maybe it is the opposite, in fact. You becoming increasingly aware.
But such obvious foreignness is merely one place on a grid. For in order for there to be any ‘collision’ of cultures, in order for there to be any liminal space or negotiation, there has to be first a sense of other-ness. And so the interesting question is when, and how, the sense of distance starts. The jolt of awareness of looking at oneself, of performing oneself.
In childhood, of course, as Keeler described for Java. Different ‘cultures’ – and different generations – handle this differently. But once instilled, how is this sense fostered – the sense of self-aware spectatorship? Theatrical forms that teasingly drag the watcher in and out of the performance seem to nurture this self-reflexive awareness of role playing. And such theatre relates closely to the social role-playing of ceremony. The performance of Tubuh Ketiga captured this.
It also posed the question: what happens when you take something somewhere else? What happens when people go away – to Saudi Arabia as migrant workers, for instance, and return after five years to see their children? What kind of in-between sense of belonging and alienation – of being simultaneously at-home and not-at home – do they experience? What happens when you take a traditional performance from Indramayu and put it in a contemporary Indonesian performance? What happens when a performance or ceremony created for one place is taken elsewhere? What happens when performers theorize about what they do?
Tubuh Ketiga’s overt theme was hybridity and globalization, but it drew attention to the Third Space of observation, self-reflexiveness and performativity. The performance ended on an unsure note, it seemed to me. Where was the ‘we’? Where did the Garasi actors place themselves in relationship to the people of Indramayu? Where did the theorizers place themselves in relation to the actors on stage, and to the audience? Where and what was ‘Indonesia’?
To write this, I borrow a copy of a DVD of Tubuh Ketiga from Garasi to jog my memory of the performance. There I am in the audience. An eerie feeling. Watching myself watching myself watching.