Senlima Revisits 1965, Interventions, with Puppets

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Five clowns wrangle a small camera into a box, only to find a miniature living room where a puppet sits with his caged pet parrot. Prodding and poking the room's walls, they release the bird in an exquisite feat of computer animation, and simple video projection that lets the fowl dance across the stage walls and audience's arms.

    This scene was from the world premiere of Senlima, a drama coproduced by nationally acclaimed Papermoon Puppet Company and German theater group, Retrofuturisten, and sponsored by the Goethe Institute. The one-hour production – whose title means 'without limits' in the international language of Esperanto, played to sold-out crowds in Yogyakarta on Thursday. It will run at Galeri Salihara in Jakarta on October 4, 2015, before heading to Europe.

    By noteworthy coincidence, Senlima's premiere comes on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the government's quelling of an alleged communist uprising in 1965, an event that cascaded into the killing of over 500,000 people.

    "This is a month when Indonesia is remembering the events of 1965 but at Papermoon we always think about this issue," explained Maria Tri Sulistyani, one of the play's directors and Papermoon's founders. "You can’t just rip off [the memory], it's our past, and it is what makes us stand here today."

    The correlation is now mentionable and overlaps with Senlima's basic premise, namely that out of curiosity, ideology or mono-maniacal zeal, outside interveners totally disrupt and dislocate people from their innate situations, like clowns dislodging puppets from their boxes.

    That happened in 1965, but could equally apply to the present international refugee crisis unfolding in Europe and at refugee camps in Northern Sumatatra, or a lot of development outcomes. Goodwill sometimes leads to unintended consequences.

    "For me scientists often go too far with their curiosity. They don't respect others – the microorganisms or societies that they are working on," explained Roscha A. Saidow, the show's co-director from Retrofuturisten. "So the bouffants [French for clown] are going into this puppet’s life and destroying it. But they also try to help fix the situation. The life of this man in this box is not complete and the man also realizes that he is hiding from his past."

    Each of the clowns cum puppeteers has a one-word slogan that they repeat in various cadences.  The Indonesian clown, Pambo Priyojati, keeps saying 'Ayo,' or 'let's go.' His German counterparts yell other words that translate to "what," "order," "solution" or "sorry" as they dislocate the man with their good intentions. These sound byte agendas are particularly apt in a year marking the anniversary of the 1965 killings and mass dislocation.

    "Refugees are a very sensitive issue right now, especially in Europe, so we decided to touch on the subject in a poetic way: facing the issue, not ignoring it but also adding layers," said Roscha. "Everyone reads the story differently, it is a mirror of your inner feelings and I'm really proud of that."