Sunday, 15 July 2012

Budi N.D. Dharmawan: Ketoprak (Javanese Theatre)

Photo © Budi N.D. Dharmawan-All Rights Reserved

Ketoprak is a theatrical genre of Java in Indonesia which features actors and performers who sing to the accompaniment of the gamelan. It draws its stories from Javanese history and romances, and in that respect is different from the wayang kulit (shadow puppets) which are based on stories from the Hindu epics.

Ketoprak was created by a Surakarta court official in 1914, evolved into a spoken drama of Javanese and Islamic history but with the modernisation brought along with television and videos, it has lost much of its popularity, and the younger generation has lost interest in traditional folk/cultural arts.

Budi N.D. Dharmawan is is an Indonesian documentary photographer, with interest in social, humanitarian, and cultural issues. His Staged Life gallery documents a ketroprak troupe which he followed.

He describes this experience very eloquently: 

"It is a story of poverty, which is widespread across Indonesia, a country that has been celebrating economic growth in the past decade. It is unimaginable that these people can live on less than USD 10 a month, but yet it is very real. It is a story of people practicing a form of art that younger generation no longer cares about, not necessarily in order to preserve it, but because it is their way to make ends meet. It is a story of life, both on-stage and also off-stage, which somehow feels like it is just another stage to perform."

I haven't attended a ketoprak performance, but i did photograph an Arja performance in Bali. Arja enacts old stories mainly based on the Panji Romances (11-14th centuries) and uses dialogue understood only by Balinese-speaking audiences. Many of the stories derived from Balinese tales, Chinese and Arabic, and from the Mahabharata and Ramayana.