Many people think of the theater as a place for stuffy costumes and stale dialogue. But a play now showing at the Salihara cultural center in South Jakarta is sure to put a twist on that idea.
“Goyang Penasaran,” billed as “The Obsessive Twist” in English, is a play filled with erotic performers, motorcycle taxi drivers and your average street thugs, brought to the stage by Yogyakarta theater company Teater Garasi (Garage Theater).
The play tells the story of Salimah, a performer who is admired for her sensual moves on stage, but rejected offstage by those who blame her for causing moral decay in her community.
The script is based on a short story by Intan Paramaditha that was first published in an anthology titled “Kumpulan Budak Setan” (“The Devil’s Slaves Club”), which also featured works by writers Ugoran Prasad and Eka Kurniawan.
Each author wrote four stories for the book that aimed to redefine the horror genre. Intan’s story also explored issues of gender and sexuality, and it was those themes that caught the attention of playwright Naomi Srikandi.
The pair decided to collaborate on the theater project after discussing the idea at the Symposium of Performance in Indonesia (SPIN) in 2009.
Participants at the symposium discussed the effect of the “performance” of religious piety on those deemed to be the national “other,” including women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Intan’s story paid particular attention to this phenomenon at the turn of the millennium, when a new social order was being defined for Indonesia after the fall of the Suharto regime.
At that time, Intan said, many people turned to religion as a stable touchstone at a time of great uncertainty. It was not so much people’s religion that changed, but their public performance of their religion.
“When I grew up in the ’80s, no one I knew wore a jilbab,” Intan said, using the Indonesian word for the Islamic headscarf. “Back then there was no FPI [Islamic Defenders Front], no Internet and no Anti-Pornography Law.”
The character of Salimah is in part based on dangdut performer Inul Daratista, whose “drilling” dance moves became a recurring topic of debate during the drafting of the Anti-Pornography Law.
The debate centered on whether Inul’s erotic dance moves up on the stage could be deemed pornographic, and what such a label would mean for the entire genre of dangdut, a uniquely Indonesian style of music and dance based on Indian and Arab influences.
As with Inul, Salimah’s body becomes politicized as she copes with the many conflicting labels that people attach to her onstage and offstage actions as a dangdut performer.
“The question of how we see things becomes central,” Intan said. “That’s what the play is about. How do you see, for instance, a dangdut singer, Pak Haji [a man who has made the hajj pilgrimage] or someone with a jilbab today?”
As co-writer and director of “Goyang Penasaran,” Naomi made the decision to cast a man in the lead role of Salimah, further challenging the audience’s perception of the character and his or her sexuality.
The critical edge of “Goyang Penasaran” made it the perfect fit for Teater Garasi, an arts collective whose mission is to tackle a variety of social issues in its performances.
The play was first staged in Yogyakarta last December, funded by a grant from the Kelola Foundation’s Empowering Women Artists program.
For the Jakarta show, Teater Garasi appealed to its audience to raise funds via crowd-funding website www.indiegogo.com. The target of $3,000 was reached last week, making it the first theater project in Indonesia to be funded by its audience in this way.
The show opens at Salihara tonight, and will also be staged to coincide with Kartini Day, a day dedicated to national feminist figure Kartini, on Friday, April 21.
Goyang Penasaran (The Obsessive Twist)
Thursday and Friday, April 19 and 20
Jl. Salihara No. 16
Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta