PREVIEW: Puteri lntan Baiduri & Potpuri Malaysia

The mystical wayang kulit takes on a more three dimensional form this weekend at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas as the Petronas Performing Arts Group (PPAG) brings to life the legend of Puteri lntan Baiduri. The story of a beautiful princess trapped in a spell by the evil Maharaja Bota will be presented in an experimental style that is based on the concept of wayang kulit, an ancient art form from Kelantan where stories are told with shadow puppets, and uses a combination of classical Malay dance with touches of contemporary elements.

Imagine for a moment that the colourful shadow puppets of the wayang kulit have come to life and taken on human form. This is essentially what renowned Sarawakian choreographer Nurjajadi Jasan, the artistic director, has accomplished with Puteri lntan Baiduri, an adaptation of an epic story based on traditional literature from the Hindu-Islamic transitional period. Jasan, whose last collaboration with the PPAG was in Dramatari Hanuman in 2000, has over 30 years of experience in the Malaysian dance scene and has recently been invited to conduct lectures in Traditional Dance and Sarawakian Customs at the National Arts Academy.

Garbed in rich traditional costumes and using only dance movements and facial expressions, the performers tell the tale of how King Darul al-Marjun leaves his new-born daughter, Puteri lntan Baiduri, under the care of a guardian angel deep within a forest to prevent her from being captured by Maharaja Bota. The King then tells Maharaja Sota that the child was stillborn. Maharaja Bota refuses to believe this and sends his minions to find her. Many years pass before they eventually find and capture Puteri lntan Baiduri. On discovering that the King had lied to him, Maharaja Bota becomes enraged and forces Puteri lntan Baiduri to marry him. When she refuses, he casts a spell on her, turning her into a poisonous snake-like creature known as Kala Madusa and commands her to destroy her father’s kingdom of Darul al-Marjun.

An interesting feature in this dance-drama is the ensemble of six men and six women, all clad in black with long bright red sashes, who appear in the background while the story itself is unfolding. Their movements are very much modern ones and very symbolic in nature, as if to echo the emotions being felt by the main characters in the story. As the performance does not involve any dialogue, this ensemble helps to channel the unspoken messages in the story, making it easier for the audience to connect with the performers.

The music was specially arranged for the Puteri lntan Baiduri performance by musical director Mohammad Rajab Md Dali, using both traditional and modern instruments including a new chromatic gamelan set (which uses the full scale of notes as found in a piano), timpani and even voice, to add a haunting feel to the instrumentation.

The dance-drama will be followed by a medley of traditional Malaysian dances, themed Potpuri Malaysia. Another of the PPAG’s musical directors, Mohd Yazid Zakaria and choreographer Norul Suhaida Musa have put together a series of seven colourful segments, to showcase the country’s rich and diverse cultures. From the silat (traditional Malay martial arts) inspired Tarian Pahlawan to the fast-paced Arabian-influenced Zapin Parit Mastar to the mish-mash of dances from all of the country’s main races and ethnic groups featured in Medley Potpuri Malaysia, this 30-minute performance promises to end the evening on a high note.

With its interesting juxtaposition of old and new, fusing ancient art forms with modern elements, the Petronas Performing Arts Group stays true to its aim of keeping the country’s rich culture alive and making traditional arts more accessible to the masses. This is perhaps, one of the PPAG’s better offerings to date. A dear sign that they are progressing towards creating performances that are a notch above the usual touristy song and dance offerings that are associated with traditional performing arts groups in this country.

Real-life wayang kulit, anyone?

The Petronas Performing Arts Group will present Puteri lntan Baiduri & Potpuri Malaysia at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas on April 13 & 14 at 8.30pm.

First Published: 09.04.2002 on Kakiseni

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