Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Travel Diaries: Yogyakarta


Flying into Adi Sucipto Airport Yogyakarta, early morning, 7 April 2015
Flying over any part of Java in the early morning is always rewarding, but flying into Yogyakarta from Bali is often spectacularly so. One sees mighty Mt Merapi towering over the glittering lime-green plains of padi in the distance, and Candi Prambanan rising like a wedding cake in the foreground.
Arriving at the d’Omah garden hotel in Tembi Vilage, 30 minutes after landing, is another treat: the instant submersion into the deep end of sensual Central Java — all that is Javanese and elegant and beauty…. Oh Mama, don’t get me going.
This morning I have a delicious soto breakfast with my old buddy Warwick Purser, the hotel’s owner, and then head off shopping.
A villa at the uber-charming Javanese resort d’Omah in Tembi, south of Yogyakarta.
7 April 2015, morning: “Pintu Miring” art gallery in Kasongan village.
I have not been to the fame terracotta village of Kasongan, near Tembi in 25 years so am thrilled to find it still villagey and semi-rural.
I am tracking down local sculptor Noor Ibrahim whose gallery is holding Kasongan’s first Terracotta Trienale on 7 June, for a month.

Noor Ibrahim in his “Pintu Miring” gallery, Gesik, Kasongan venue for the coming Terracotta Biennale, 7 June – 7 July 2015.
Visit terracottabiennale.org
The gallery is not easy to find but it’s full of treasures once you get there. Noor has had exhibitions all over Asia — his fascinating Ali Baba’s cave in a bamboo grove on a broad river meander is quite unique.
He takes me next door into Gesik village where local and international artists are hard at work on pieces for the show.
Visit terracottabiennale.org for details of the biennale being held 7 June to 7 July at “Pintu Miring” gallery.

Sketches for a series of terracotta boat artworks by Budi Ubrux.

Local artist creates a terracotta sculpture for the
coming biennale.

Javanese blangkon headdresses being ‘fixed’ in the sun,
Kasongan village.
Kasongan takes its name from Mbah Song, a revolutionary Javanese in the 18th century who took refuge from the Dutch forces who occupied Yogyakarta to the north. To avoid the severe taxes placed on rice production, Mbah Song founded a terracotta producing village — tiles and toys and floor tiles. It continues to this day, the local clay being very good. During the 1970s, local entrepreneur Sapto Hudoyo helped develop Kasongan into a thriving craft village.
7 April 2015 evening: Heaven on a stick in a palace setting
I am in Yogyakarta to see tonight’s world premier of ‘Dance of the Blossoming Warriors (Wira Kusuma)’ at n’Dalem Pujokusuman dance academy.
The piece has been reconstructed by my friend, Chinese-American-Balinese-Javanese dance maestro Garret Kam (Nyoman Hawaii of Bedulu) who first studied the original dance in 1976 under its creator the late Sasminta Mardawa (K.R.T. Sasmintadipura).
Since the death of the foundation’s founder, Bp. Sasminta, there have been performances every 35 days, but every April on the anniversary of his death, there is a big show. Tonight his son Alin and the great Tetet and Anom will join Garret in performing the reconstructed dance for the first time ever.
Left to Right: Anom, Tetet, Alin and Garrett Kam, backstage before the world premier of Wira Kusuma.

Keris duel duet: Inul and Ningnong dance at the nDalem
Pujokusuman, 7 April 2015.

Garrett Kam tripping the light fantastic in front of a portrait of
his late great guru KRT Sasmintadipura.
The venue, with its classical performance pavilion, is a charmingly compact, reached down narrow lanes that lie within the walls of the old Dutch-Portuguese fort. The Pendopo pavilion was restored with international aid after the 2006 earthquake, which devastated much of Yogyakarta including the d’Omah. There are a few huts down a side lane that do as dressing rooms-cum-hostelry. In the dressing room there is no mirror or ventilation or wardrobe assistant: wives line up to apply moisturizer to perfect forearms. I do Tetet.
There is a brief warm up in the lane (see my video http://youtu.be/Ix036Fcqpmg) and then they’re on!
The pavilion is packed with dance aficionados and photographers. The gamelan players and choir (sinden) look magnificent at the open end of the pendopo, sitting under a large draped photo of the late founder.
In this charged atmosphere the four blossoming warriors glide around, posturing and posing — a scarf flick here a, sensuous look there.
My knees go week when Teten does his sungkem (Javanese genuflection, see photo below).

Famous Javanese classic dancer Tetet Matheus of Kota Gedhe, Yogyakarta, starts the Wira Kusuma world premier performance.
Garret is magnificent — he blends in and becomes one with the music and the dance.
Everyone watching is spell-bound.
NOTHING is more beautiful than good classic Javanese dancing in a gorgeous setting like tonight.
There’s even a table-load of Javanese snacks, laid on by the penniless foundation.
Later in the evening the Dame Margot Fontey of Javanese Classical Dance, Inul Suparti, dances a spirited duel dance with Miss Ning-Nong, another local star. It is beauty incarnate.
Get to Yogya, quick. Before all this disappear (but it’s not about to, thanks to royal patronage).
•    •    •

Sydney University lecturer Michael Muir and son, in Yogya to learn shadow puppet-making,
in front of d’Omah Hotel, Tembi, Yogyakarta.
On my second day in Yogyakarta I drove south from Tembi on the Parangtritis road to the beach at Parangtritis — the famed site for the Yogyakarta palace’s ceremonies to the much-revered goddess Ratu Kidul. The goddess’ ‘land base’ is the gorgeous Candi Penataran near Adi Sucipto Airport.
Parangtritis beach has changed little since I first visited there in the 1970s — a few new grilled fish stalls and hotels have sprung up but the area is still delightfully natural. Swim with care.
•    •    •
Driving back I called at the royal tombs at Imogiri, resting place of nearly all the sultans and sunans of Solo and Yogyakarta and their family members. The court retainers at Imogiri wear the bright basekop sembagi shirts that some of the dancers wore in last night’s first act. Strictly, it is the prerogative of the rulers to wear this bright floral look — dating back a thousand years when the Indian sembagi was first imported into the courts at Sriwijaya, in South Sumatra, where it is still made (batik sembagi).
The splendid tombs at Imogiri are only open to the public on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays (10 a.m.), when one is allowed to follow the palace ‘priests’ into the royal tomb areas and witness nyekah ceremonies, in which flowers are scattered on the graves.
In Bali this sort of soul purification is called nyekar (from sekar = flower) but it involves weeks of ceremonies.