The night we went to see a Ramayana Ballet show at Prambanan temple site, I was feeling miserable and completely in a foul mood. I was in a middle of a project when we went to Jogjakarta and had at most a six hours of sporadic sleep within the prior 48 hours period. In short, I was becoming an undesirable travel partner that had I’m not taking the trip with my wife, I would surely ended up being on a black list of my travel partners. Big deal, I never liked to travel anyway. And I’m still not liking it. But that’s another story.
It was a gloomy night, and a drizzle, the kind of rain that would most likely lasted for an entire night, has been pouring down right since we had our feet planted on Jogjakarta’s soil a couple of hours prior. We had no reservations for the show thinking that we could just wing it and completely oblivious to the possibility of any shortage whatsoever. Of course, the night happens to be a school’s day off and there happens to be a bus full of junior high schoolers who went to see the show as well. Naturally, we were informed that there were no tickets available for the show and we had to wait for a couple of minutes to see if there’s any seat left due to cancellation or a confirmed no-show. Fortunately, a last minute cancellation net us a couple of front row tickets which actually costs (way) more than we had anticipated. But since we’ve gone this far already, and we would’ve missed the show entirely had we not done so, we bought it anyway.
It was well worth it. Every single penny of it.
The show started, and us in the front row. My wife later said that she had never seen me this excited since we saw “Inception” for the first time a couple of years ago. Oh, I’m actually easily excitable but I also had a very short attention span and easily bored. Furthermore, there’s a slight but obvious difference between me being excited and me being Excited. The case with “Inception” and this Ramayana Ballet show was me, being Excited. When I’m being Excited, I would sit at the very edge of my seat, a hint of a half smile, almost a half grin even, and tried to see and See everything all at once. The show was that good and it later turns out to be the only highlight of my entire trip to Jogjakarta (and its surrounding areas). The one thing that I’m willing to suffer another inconvenience of travel in order to re-experiencing it once again.
I was named after one of the principal cast of the Ramayana tale and therefore, I had a hint of familiarity with the tale. Just a hint though, because it turns out that I had a small to no recollection of the tale when it comes to its secondary characters as they played out at the show. But, needless to say, I was enamored with the sights, the sounds, and the movements of the dancers. Some are simple steps, slow swirls that conveys grace and beauty, rough steps showing an aggressiveness of a character and the conflict it entails, and many more that I don’t think would be fair to put words into. It is something that should be experienced by oneself in order to have an understanding that eventually led to semblance of appreciation. During the two hours of the show, I had completely forgotten about my exhaustion and my foul mood was entirely lifted away. The dancers told a story, and even if there are some elements that does not fit with the narrative (the intentional comedy sequence, for instance, although it wasn’t entirely unacceptable), the story went through with a relative ease even if at times, I have no idea on who was the character on the stage without glancing to the show’s synopsis pamphlet at hand.
At one point of the show, I had a passing curiosity about the dancers. About how they are doing what they really love and must’ve been very proud of keeping and delivering one of our cultural treasures. And I got a bit jealous because they are doing what they love and in the process, must’ve been paid very well. This train of thought proves that I’m still a naive in believing that the world works in an ideal manner. After the show, my wife had a chance to see one of the dancer from a close and she immediately recognized her from a feature she saw on a TV once. This is, at best, a second hand story but either way, I could very well easily imagined it to be true. According to my wife, the TV feature showed that these dancers are not a pro and they are not paid as well as I had thought before. The dancers were coming from a working class and sometimes, from a kind of working class whose members are in a constant daily struggle to put food on the table. In fact, the only sensible thing that kept them going rehearsing and held a two hour show thrice a week, as cliche as it may be, is their desire and love to keep the heritage from being forgotten. My wife had told me about this on our way back to Jogjakarta after the show and as I look outside the window, spotted a couple of youngsters, heads down toward the tiny glare on their hands, or hanging out in group with what I had assumed to be the latest fashion trends, I was saddened. One could argue about keeping the past in the past, living in the present and embracing the future, but there has to be an effort to keep a heritage and passing it down for our future generations to enjoy. And if the dancers’ welfare is of any indication, we are not trying hard enough. In fact, our taxi driver doesn’t know anything about the show beside the site on which it was held. A couple of acquaintances, one who had lived in Jogjakarta for years, and another who is currently living in the area, had never even seen the show. I mean, if we wouldn’t care, who else? Believe me, next time you go to Jogjakarta, make time to see this show. But, if bustling around streams of human beings, shoulder to shoulder with peddlers and customers trying to haggle one another is your thing, Malioboro is perhaps more to your liking. Me? I hate Malioboro. I really really loathe the experience that you had to pay me a significant amount of money to go there again. Seriously, what makes people wants to go to Malioboro? I’m completely dumbfounded by it.
I only had one tiny qualm with the show. I wish we had seen it on May – October period when they held the show outdoor, beneath the yellow washed light of Prambanan temple. Beyond that period, as it was known to be a rainy season, the show is presented indoor, thrice a week every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, beginning from 7.30 pm. Tickets are priced between IDR75k and IDR200k. But trust me, you don’t want to settle less than a first class ticket.
We’ve already make plans to see the show again when it is scheduled for an outdoor show. Further, I’m going to time it in order for us to have a full moon experience as well. And by then, I’m certain, as certain as Sun that I could put an adjective “Magical” into the already mesmerizing show. If anything, the show makes one thing clear. Though I’m still inherently fettered out with the inconvenience of traveling and nine out of ten would opt to stay at home in front of my laptop than to go someplace new, there’s one thing that could make me willing to give traveling a second thought. Performance Arts.