The Spectacular Matah Ati dance drama finally came home to play at one of the grandest theatres in Indonesia’s capital city, theTeater Jakarta, at Taman Ismail Marzuki Art Center, in response to the hype that had grown since its successful world premiere in Singapore in 2010. Performing at a special session for the media on May 12th 2011, the Matah Ati colossal dance opera left the highly expectant audience completely spellbound all through its one- and- a-half hour show.
The official logo of the Mangkunegaran Palace of Solo appeared on the stage curtain welcoming the audience as they began to fill all available seats insideTeater Jakarta. After a brief greeting, the lights were dimmed and the spotlight shone on a young girl sitting gracefully at the edge of the stage who chanted the prologue of the story. Then, the curtains were raised revealing the amazing trapezium shaped stage sloping 15 degrees, and a female legion standing at the ready as a sign of gender equality even in that bygone era. Accompanied by the grandeur of gamelan music, the center trap door opened to reveal the Sunan and the royal family of the Mataram Kingdom. And so the journey through the epic history of this Dynasty began.
The first scene of the first Act illustrated the dreams and desire of Rubiyah, a young peasant girl who wished to become part of the royal family. A mystical aura filled the air when four elderly women walked around the stage carrying burnt incense, chanting different mantras, while Rubiyah descended into a deep trance. As she moved towards the front of the stage, her beautiful cloak with a 10-meter train of jasmine flowers was pulled back signifying lost dreams and desires, leaving the audience amazed by this spectacle.
Depicting the peaceful and lively village of Matah, a group of villagers danced and sang well-known traditional children songs including Yo Pro Konco and Cublek-cublek Suweng. The First Act ended with the arrival of Raden Mas Said and his entourage, making his first short encounter with the beautiful Rubiyah.
Act Two begins with a scene where Raden Mas Said performed a Tapa Brata or ascetical meditation in which through a fascinating mix of traditional and modern choreography, three attractive young maidens tried to tempt him, but to no avail. Then a dream appeared in which he met a beautiful woman who fascinated him greatly. Act Two also presented the intricate massive choreography illustrating the Sumpah Pamoring Kawula, the pledge stating:” Tiji Tibeh, Mati Siji Mati Kabeh, Mukti Siji Mukti Kabeh” (Death to one and death to all, Glory to and One Glory to All) and the onset of Dutch Colonialism that plunged Surakarta into civil war.
Symbolizing Dutch arrogance and influences in the war, a unique contemporary whip dance was performed by two pro-Dutch soldiers during Act Three, that received endless applause from the audience.
Act Four highlighted the scene where Raden Mas Said saw a shining light coming from a female spectator who had fallen asleep during a Wayang Kulit performance. He left his headband to cover the young lady and was convinced that she was, in fact, the girl who had appeared in his meditation. The wayang kulit performance itself was illustrated in a spectacular mix of theatrical action and digitalization on screen.
In Act Five the audience was entertained with the comical performance of four elderly women portraying villagers of Matah. Using a mixture of Javanese, Bahasa Indonesia and even a smattering of English, they discussed present issues representing the voice of the common people addressing the authorities. Act Five also highlighted the arrival of Rubiyah to the Mangkunegaran palace and her inauguration as Commander of the brave female legion, and given the name ‘Matah Ati’.
The elegant and mystical Bedaya Court Dance was then performed in Act Six to express the collecting of the spirit to prepare for war and to willingly die in battle.
The climax of the war came in Act Seven, where Raden Mas Said and Matah Ati successfully led their troops into a great victory yet at the same time in deep mourning, since the troops they defeated were in fact, their own brothers and sisters. The scenes were highlighted with some of the most sophisticated and spectacular choreography involving massive groups of dancers matched by the colossal musical background of the gamelan.
The Finale came in Act Eight where a feast was held for the great victory achieved, at the same time to celebrate the unifying love between Raden Mas Said and Matah Ati through a royal wedding. The journey through love and war finally ended with the scene where Raden Mas Said and Matah Ati expressed their deep love and devotion to each other, thus marking the beginning of the Mangkunegaran Dynasty.
Inspired by the classic Javanese Langendriyan, a dance-drama performance that collaborates music, narration and movement, the Matah Ati performance has successfully presented ancient Javanese values in culture and traditions for modern viewers. The endless standing ovation from the press and invitees as the cast and creators appeared to give their final bows was solid proof of this.
Speaking after the show, Art Director Jay Subiakto stated that rather than only being proud of the many foreign artists that have and are performing in the country, Indonesians ought also to be proud of our own creations and heritage. And Jay did just that when he brought the entire technical crew including lighting and audio for the ‘Matah Ati’ performance in Singapore to show to the international world the competence and feel of a complete Indonesian art experience.
The authenticity of the Mangkunegaran culture of Solo also radiated from the costumes as described by Writer/Producer/Director as well as Costume Designer, Atilah Soeryadjaya . According to Atilah, the costumes worn were authentic Mangkunegaran designs which were exclusively reproduced by famous Indonesian fashion designer, the late Iwan Tirta.
In all, the spectacular Matah Ati performance was Spellbinding, a one of a kind experience that leads its audiences to rediscover a small, yet culturally rich, portion of Indonesia.
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