- Odalan Bali
How could you (and should you) present ritual in an intercultural context? As Azmi (2008) notes in this issue of Asian Theatre Journal, Odalan Bali confronts the viewer with the big questions of intercultural presentation. These are issues that caused Zarrilli to rail against Brook's Mahabharata (Zarrilli 1977); Schechner to blast Staal's reconstruction of a fire altar ritual in South India (Schechner 1985); and Bharucha to fault Schechner for playing with rasa aesthetics (Barucha 1984). I will not in this short review take on the arguments of the many who have weighed in on the "dos" and "don'ts" in inter-cultural work (see for example Cohen 2005; Daugherty 2005; Lo and Gilbert 2002; Pavis 1992). Instead I will respond to a specific piece wherein performance and ritual blur. Here the Asian artists and the Western producers who present the work cross-culturally cannot be divided into ethnic "others" and panoptic orientalist gazers. Hence the presentation attacks the conventional "no-go" territories constructed in the culture wars of the last quarter century. By going where most fear to tread, the creators I Dewa Putu Berata (director-composer), I Nyoman Cerita (choreographer), Emiko Susilo (co-director), and Judy Mitoma (producer) of Odalan Bali create a landmark work of inter-cultural theatre: one that gets it right (see Figure 1).
The narrative is simple. Performers largely play themselves: Balinese villagers who are going through the process of a temple ceremony. But this is not a reconstruction of an actual festival as might be seen in world fair pavilions or natural history museums of the twentieth century or the current Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which continues to present culturally informed summer performances on the Washington Mall. Rather this is an aesthetically constructed reflection, developed by Balinese artists and informed by Westerners who have long studied these arts. Ritual time is compressed into theatrical time. The ethnic others who help shape the work for Western eyes are themselves folded inside the belief system of Bali, as the Balinese are versed in American life.
The day begins with the sounds of croaking frogs, a soundscape by Wayne Vitale (head of the Bay Area Gamelan Sekar Jaya). The frogs' calls seem [End Page 373]
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to merge into their own version of interlocking musical pattern. Interlock is a basic idea underlying all gamelan—each musician playing his own instrument contributes notes that, meshing rhythmically with other parts, make up a larger melody in which no single instrument or voice dominates. All participants must listen to all the other parts to "fit." Here, in the dialogic music of frogs, the calm night of a Southeast Asian village surrounded by paddy fields is evoked. Lighting by Eileen Cooley brings the blue, still light of dawn out of the darkness as women rise to sweep and set out offerings. The echo of the slit drum (kukul) "wakes" the villagers. Male headdresses for the baris, a martial male dance, are placed in the center of the stage for this first half of the performance, thus locating viewers in a male-dominated sphere. The women pound rice (though such rice pounding music is rarely heard in contemporary villages) as men cut and carve bamboo. The pounds, chops, and slices move from random sounds to a precise mesh—music is born from cacophony as the percussive choices of each individual find consonance in pattern. Here "instruments" (knives, pounders, coconut scrapers) do not have specific notes as does the gamelan. Rhythm rules until the human voice interposes with alternating male and female pantun-style choruses. Pantun are short verses usually of four lines in which the first two lines set up sound and rhyme patterns and the last two lines use those same patterns to deliver the message. Pantun-like singing games are found...