By Cedar Brown
The Planet – A Lament is a raw grieving for the suffering Earth in a time of destructive consumerism and climate change. It blends film, voice and movement, involving the audience in a ritual healing.
Director, Garin Nugroho, has nurtured this work through collaboration, drawing on styles of movement and lament singing from across the Indonesian Archipelago. As I was unfamiliar with these influences, nuances of this combining were lost to me, but the rich interrogation of movement and vocal performance was evident throughout.
Soloist and composer Septina Layan, a specialist in ethnomusicology focusing on the research composing and singing of lament in Papua, leads us through the narrative. The subtleties of her breathing and piercing beauty of her cries reaches you on a cellular level, speaking to a shared pain at the Earth’s suffering that can be difficult to articulate and often easier to ignore. She communicates both a specific and collective grief at the increase of natural disasters, the careless destruction of the environment through the creation of non-biodegradable inanimate objects, and the ensuing loss of human life.
The Mazmur Chorale choir, based in Kupang, West Timor, Indonesia are phenomenal. Their vivid, plaintive voices create a rich sonic tapestry that carries the performance. The richness of their harmonies, the emotionality of their performances, and the creative way their voices weave in and out of each other and the piece is beautiful to experience.
The narrative itself, though simple, is unfortunately hard to follow. This is not least because the choir and soloist, who act as narrators, often take centre stage, obscuring the fact that the ‘man’, a dancing figure who is the sole survivor of a huge natural disaster, is meant to be the central character of the piece. The dancers (Douglas, Dwaa, Eliz, Rianto and Boogie) move with obvious skill and beauty. Especially notable are scenes with the co-ordinated movement of three monsters, and the vibrant figurative realness of the bird who brings new energy to the piece. However, despite this, the narrative itself carries little dramatic tension, as our primary emotion investment is with Layan and the choir. Sometimes there is written text projected onto the surfaces, but whether this is sporadic translation or narrative insertions, it does not make the story much clearer.
A woven lattice of clothing items makes up the main set element. These clothes were gathered from the second-hand market of Kupang, Timor. Their shape transforms throughout the piece, at different times resembling of a tsunami wave, and at others being evocative of the lost lives of those who may have once inhabited them. At all times though, both meanings intermingle, speaking to the tension between the environmental loss at the hands of human power and the human loss at the hands of environmental power.
The piece is full of circles, from the illuminating light on Layan in the opening scene, to a round disc that hangs from the ceiling, to the cyclical implications of the egg as the central motif. This piece is presented at the Arts Centre at a time of cynicism and despair for the future of our climate and our world, as the city has seen a summer of terrible air quality and increasingly erratic weather, and the onslaught of fire then flood that has affected many in devastating ways. But in this piece, we are not witnessing a hopelessness, we are not witnessing the crumbling of life into an apocalyptic void. Rather, we are grieving together with the hope of renewal.
Performance 3.5, , Direction 3.5, Costume and set 4, Lighting 4, Sound 5
Images: Gregory Loren