With the Islamic fasting month starting this week, Jakarta’s show biz scene is about to get much quieter. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any shows at all. In fact, if you enjoy musicals or Chinese culture, you are in luck.
“Menjemput Impian” [“Picking Up the Dream”] is a musical presented by True Spirit, a Tionghoa [Chinese-Indonesian] art collective. It will be performed twice a day from Aug. 3 to 5 at Taman Ismail Marzuki in Central Jakarta.
The production focuses on the story of the Chinese exodus to Indonesia from the early 20th century onward. It’s based on true historical events, although the central characters are fictional.
Mairin Hadiwidjojo, the producer and writer, said the musical was inspired in part by rising individualism among young people, particularly because they are so involved with their gadgets — something that becomes clear in the very first scene.
Director Yusril S.S. said the musical begins with two central characters: a grandfather and a grandson. The senior tries to inform the younger one about the difficult life their ancestors faced a century ago.
“It’s a story about a Chinese household … after the cultural assimilations in Indonesia,” said Yusril, who is based in Padang, West Sumatra.
The musical shows how the grandfather struggled with moving around and having to adjust when he was younger.
It is those migrations, not the darker, bloodier times Chinese-Indonesians had to face after Indonesia gained its independence, that are the focus of the play.
“I think it’s really interesting to hear about how our grandparents settled in Indonesia and how the assimilation happened,” Mairin said.
The musical spans three decades, from the 1900s to the 1930s, when China was suffering from wars and a weak economy. Educated people were demanding a revolution, but most people were struggling just to put food on the table. An exodus thus took place, not only to Indonesia but also to other parts of the world.
Young Chinese-Indonesians might not be so aware of that past, Mairin said.
“You know how living in a big city makes the younger generations forget about our history,” she said.
One of the play’s aims is to teach the younger generation the value of having a strong will, a quality that was evident in their ancestors’ way of life.
“The show reflects the older generation’s concern that the younger ones do not remember their own history,” he said. “If we don’t do something about this, we are afraid it will be a boomerang for them.”
There is also the theme of adaptation. The play focuses on how newly arrived Chinese worked with locals to strengthen the economy, a process that helped them through the transition process to unite with their new countrymen. It is a perspective that is rarely presented in cultural performances.
Mairin and Yusril went against another trend by keeping their cast free of celebrities. Better to nurture the next generation of actors and artists, they said.
Among the crew are 35 dancers. They’ll have a demanding schedule: for the whole run of the show, they’ll have to perform twice a day, with no understudies. Some of them will even play double roles, said choreographer Silvia Ong.
The show mixes contemporary dance with traditional and classic Chinese techniques. Silvia has adapted the Han drum style to the stage, as well as the classic shuixiu dance in which dancers wear long silk sleeves attached to the cuffs of their costumes.
Silvia also wrote a few poems for the show. The musical features poems in both Indonesian and Mandarin, but the dialogue will all be delivered in Indonesian. All of the poems are original.
Silvia, from Surabaya, said she was excited to work on the project. “There aren’t many young Tionghoa who get involved in art nowadays,” she said.
Mairin traces her family’s roots to Fuqing, but she was born in Jakarta. She studied animation at the California Institute of the Arts in the United States.
Silvia and Mairin come from the same Tionghoa group, whose grandparents and great grandparents first came to Indonesia from Fuqing.
Yusril said the biggest challenge of executing the musical has been his unfamiliarity with Chinese culture, causing him to have to rely on Mairin’s interpretations.
“It’s also difficult to work together since I live in Padang, Mairin in Jakarta and Silvia in Surabaya, but we made it,” said Yusril.
Regular tickets cost Rp 150,000 ($16) and VIP seats Rp 350,000. Garuda Indonesia is offering discounted plane tickets to people from outside Jakarta keen to visit the capital for the show.
Friday, Aug. 3 to 5, Graha Bakti Budaya, Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jl. Cikini Raya, Central Jakarta