PERAHU-PERAHU – OZASIA FESTIVAL 2021 at the Space Theater, Adelaide Festival Center

Commented by Justene Knight and Eddy Knight, Wednesday October 27, 2021.

Perahu-Perahu, who is Indonesian for boats, takes the audience on a sensory journey of light, image and sound. Wayang kulit is a traditional form of puppet theater, where light and shadow join with sound to create the stories of our dreams and realities. In its traditional form, it uses the flame and a screen between the performers and the audience. In this production, Indonesian Australian artist Jumaadi and his collaborators use dual overhead projectors and colorful lighting gels to reimagine this art form and bring it to an exquisite level. The lighting design was by Susan Gray Gardner.

For an hour, the audience is taken on a journey, where boats are at the heart of a contemporary story on many levels of daily life, food, climate change, pandemics, work, loss and love. Co-director and main artist, Jumaadi, and co-director and musical director, Michael Toisuta, are joined by three amazing and versatile musicians, Sawung Jabo, Mick Stuart and Kyati Suharto, and two superb shadowmakers, Julia Westwood and Maki Ogawa. Sometimes I forcibly dragged myself out of the story just for the joy of seeing the sheer skill of this collaborative group of talented artists working together, the way they looked at each other, focusing on body and body cues. its to adapt and blend their talents into the dreamlike landscape that unfolds on the screens.

The live soundscape of spoken and sung words and multiple instruments weaved through the Chinese shadows, sometimes almost fading to a heartbeat felt before being heard and, at other times, occupying the front and center, exploding with joy and leading the shadows in their dance across the screens.

Although the production technology has been updated and the old stories of heroes, gods and demons are removed, it is still a traditional form of storytelling that is at the heart of wayang kulit., that a dalang (puppeteer) and a small entourage would take from village to village. In addition to popular entertainment, it is used as a vehicle for education and a means of commenting on contemporary life. In addition to a rousing pineapple wedding, durian jokes, and crab-swallowed puppets, mention is made of the sinking of the Dutch ship Batavia, reflecting stories of refugee boats sinking so far, with hundreds of drownings, facts about how many cattle are shipped to Indonesia from Australia each year, as well as Australians’ thoughts on slaughterhouse practices. There’s also a puppet roaming the screens carrying a syringe for vaccines, as the bodies pile up.

The performance is stimulating, often slyly funny and always interesting. I might not always have figured out exactly what I was seeing every moment, but in the end, that’s part of the magic. In a world where we are so often provided with stories that show us exactly what to know, having a performance to watch that will stay in my dreams and thoughts for days to come is a rare and wonderful treat. Go see him

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