Wednesday, February 7, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, February 7, 2001

Stage Review
Play gives insight into Indonesian culture

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic

Now on the University of Hawaii Kennedy Theatre main stage is the Indonesian song-and-dance drama, "Umbuik Mudo and the Magic Flute." The student production is the culmination of a six-month resident training program by visiting teachers from West Sumatra.

'Umbuik Mudo and the Magic Flute'

8 p.m. tomorrow, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday; Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Tickets: $12 general admission; discounts for students, faculty, seniors

956-7655, also TicketPlus outlets, 526-4400 (service charges apply)

The result is an unusual opportunity for Western audiences to view an exotic art form and spend part of an evening immersed in another culture, with English translation to ease the entry.

Directed by Kirstin Pauka and the result of close training by master teacher Musra Dahrizal, the show recreates what an Indonesian villager of the Minangkabau ethnic group might experience: a Randai performance, which until the 1960s was enacted only by men. At Kennedy Theatre, the opening scenes pack the most punch.

Scenic designer Storm Stafford recreates a traditional circular playing area, backed by musicians and a small audience on bleachers — replicating the look of a bamboo village hut, but also the feel of an American one-ring circus tent.

The musicians are taught and lead by Mr. Hasanawi and immediately launch into exciting dance rhythms (augmented by flutes, wind instruments, drums and a xylophone sound-alike) that introduce the chorus.

Dancers enter the circle from three directions, taking up positions on its circumference, where they spend most of the performance, moving counterclockwise.

The steps are vigorous and aerobic, synchronized angular movements suggesting martial arts patterns. A great deal of hand clapping and costume thumping make the dancers an essential part of the orchestra by creating much of their own accompaniment.

The chorus sings the story’s narration, then sits while individual performers step to the center of the circle to act out the dialogue required by short scenes. The stories are well-known folk tales and their telling is more ritualistic than the scripts that comprise western theater repertoire.

As a result, once the western audience grasps the production style, there are few surprise elements. Form takes precedence over plot. While the action continues to unfold, its pace is measured and its outcome is known.

Still, the "Mudo" story holds a good deal of charm.

The central character, played with nice-guy, unassuming modesty by Jonathan Sypert, is a young man who has just completed his tribal training and is looking for a wife. This being a matriarchy, the brokering is done by the young people’s mothers.

The proud and haughty young woman, played with regal disdain by Christine Hauptman, not only spurns the offer, but also heaps insults on her suitor. Mudo retaliates by winning her over with music he plays on a magical bamboo flute.

So there’s a happy ending, a processional and the opportunity for two more specialized dances. Two of the chorus perform a "plate dance," balancing a saucer on each palm while tracing elaborate gravity-defying patterns through the air. Another pair executes a seated fishing routine as they paddle an invisible canoe.

Except for the costuming and the martial arts sequences, this Randai play contains many of the elements of what we understand to be ancient Greek drama, suggesting that widely diverse peoples expressed their heritage in remarkably similar ways.

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