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Dewi Gegurit: Puppet Theatre and New Music at the South Bank

Posted on 23/05/2013

Matthew Cohen

Puppeteer and Department of Drama and Theatre professor Matthew Isaac Cohen (aka Kanda Buwana) is joined by Indonesian composer Marisa Sharon Hartanto and friends in a new production based on wayang golek cepak, a 200-year-old rod puppet tradition from the north coast of Java, Indonesia, to be performed at the Gamelanathon, a celebration of the gamelan music of Indonesia at London’s Southbank Centre on 6 July 2013.

The play that Professor Cohen and Ms Hartanto have created together, titled Dewi Gegurit, uses traditional wayang puppets to tell a new story combining romance, battles, a quest and comedy with philosophical and meta-theatrical reflection. Ms Hartanto’s score for piano, soprano, flute, percussion and double bass (all performed live by Royal Holloway students) is a contemporary response to the gamelan tradition, in which classical Indonesian music is mixed with pop songs, jazz and classical music.

Professor Cohen has studied Indonesian puppet theatre since 1988 and is the recipient of a royal title of Ki Ngabehi (equivalent to a knighthood) from the court of Kacirebonan for his services to Indonesian performance traditions. He has performed internationally with gamelan orchestras in Europe, the United States, Canada, Israel, Malaysia and Indonesia. His many publications about the Indonesian performing arts include two books, The Komedie Stamboel:Popular Theater in Colonial Indonesia, 1891-1903 (2006) and Performing Otherness: Bali and Java onInternational Stages, 1905-1952 (2010). The current performance builds on participatory research undertaken on the rare wayang golek cepak theatre in the regencies of Cirebon and Indramayu in 2012 which culminated in an all-night performance for a village audience in Indramayu on New Years’ Eve.

Ms Hartanto, born in Indonesia in 1986, is currently pursuing a Master of Musicdegree in composition at Royal Holloway under Mark Bowden and Helen Grime. She holds a Master Certificate in Arranging and Orchestration from Berklee College of Music, and is an experienced a pianist-accompanist in both classical music and improvisation-based music, as well as an aspiring conductor. She was one of two finalists of the BBC Concert Orchestra’s Baroque Remixed Project competition for postgraduate students and graduates throughout UK. Her orchestral piece "Rumble to the Past" (an arrangement of Purcell's Rondeau from the Abdelazer Suite) was performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Charles Hazlewood at the Roundhouse in London in March 2013.

The performance of Dewi Gegurit is scheduled to take place at the Clore Ballroom on 6 July 2013 at 5pm and is free and open to the general public. It is one of some 20 gamelan-related events scheduled for the weekend celebration of 25 years of gamelan at the Southbank. RHUL musicians include Adam Williams on percussion, Amy Burrows on flute, Caspar Green on doublebass and Harmony Chen on voice.

Further information is available at the South Bank website


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