November 18, 2010

Love, Poetry Not Lost in Translation of Indonesian Play

by Katrin Figge


WHEN German national Sabine Mueller lived and worked in Indonesia from 2002 to 2007, she took every opportunity to familiarize herself with the local theater scene. In 2004, the play “Nostalgia of a Town,” performed by the drama group Teater Satu from Lampung, Southeast Sumatra, captured the theater lover’s imagination.

Cast members rehearse for the German production of “Nostalgia of a Town”, written by Indonesian playwright Iswadi Pratama. The play is now showing in Cologne with an international cast. (Photo courtesy of Sabine Mueller) Cast members rehearse for the German production of “Nostalgia of a Town”, written by Indonesian playwright Iswadi Pratama. The play is now showing in Cologne with an international cast. (Photo courtesy of Sabine Mueller)

“I think you can say that I fell in love with the play immediately,” Mueller said, remembering her reaction after the final curtain. “I was swept away by the actors, the script and the dramatic composition.”

“Nostalgia of a Town,” written by Iswadi Pratama, tells the story of a man who tries to deal with his memories of Tanjungkarang, a town in South Sumatra where he once lived.

The man’s memories of learning to cope with loneliness, turmoil and urban noise that left him with very little room to breathe, are the central theme of the play.

The play invites the audience to reflect on the social, cultural and emotional price of living in a city.

The play has won several national awards in Indonesia, including best script, best director and best performance at the Theater Festival organized by Gedung Kesenian Jakarta (The Jakarta Playhouse) in 2003.

Over the years, Mueller and Iswadi became close friends. When Mueller moved back to Germany in 2007, she decided to translate Iswadi’s play into German and invite Teater Satu to perform in her home country.

After three years of preparation and hard work, her efforts have finally borne fruit.

The play premiered on Wednesday night and is currently showing in Cologne.

According to Mueller, this is the first theater production to feature a script originally written by an Indonesian and performed in German language to a German audience.

“I started with the translation in mid 2007,” Mueller said. “Because I already knew the play, I didn’t face fundamental problems while translating.”

However, the text is very poetic, she added, and sometimes it was not easy to translate it from Indonesian to German because of the very different grammar and syntax.

“Of course, I was enormously lucky because I always had the chance to ask the author myself when I had questions,” she said.

Iswadi, who is also currently in Germany, said he feels extremely blessed to see his play performed in Europe.

“This is a great opportunity and very important to my creative process and my career in the theater world,” he said.

He added that he has been especially happy to see that his play has brought together artists from different countries.

The cast members come from countries as varied as Russia, the Netherlands, the Ivory Coast, Germany and Indonesia, while director Kristof Szabo is Hungarian.

“I hope that through this performance we help to further enhance intercultural collaboration in the future,” Iswadi said.

Szabo, the play’s director, said he felt immediately drawn to “Nostalgia of a Town” when he first read Mueller’s translation of the script.

“The childishness, the suggestive and poetic text and the non-linear structure almost forced me to accept the offer to direct the play,” he said.

“Working together with an international ensemble and seeing them improvise during several scenes was the highlight of this project. Improvisation only works if the cast gets along well, and when they respect each other,” he said.

“Then it doesn’t matter anymore what country they actually come from.”

The result is a production that crosses several disciplines, with dance used to highlight the emotions behind the dialogue.

Images by a Hungarian animation artist, projected onto the stage during the play, complement the performance.

“In addition to all that, there is music, so the audience not only sees, but experiences with all senses what happens on stage,” Mueller said.

She hopes for an audience that is not only interested in contemporary theater, but also wants to learn about other countries and cultures.

“As a complete work of art, “Nostalgia of a Town” should be seen as an invitation to notice and focus on something foreign and different and to scrutinize certain things,” she said.

“I think that an exploration like this is best experienced together, in the theater, to see what we do or do not have in common.”

Budi Laksana of Teater Satu, who joined the rehearsals in Germany in mid-October, is the only Indonesian in the cast of seven and, as such, feels that he carries a big responsibility on his shoulders.

“This is very important to me,” he said. “I want to enrich the performance by bringing an Indonesian vibe to it.”

Mueller said it was crucial to the director to have somebody in the cast who is familiar with traditional Indonesian dance. “More than that, Budi is a very experienced and expressive actor.”

Budi admitted that sometimes the rehearsals were not easy for him.

As the only actor in the team of professional dancers, he had to overcome many challenges.

However, it was not just Budi’s involvement in the play that made his stay in Germany an unforgettable experience.

“This is the first time I have been abroad,” Budi said.

“When I first set foot in Cologne, I was immediately captivated by its beauty. The people here respect one another. The public transportation system is well-organized, and even people who are new in the city don’t get lost. Old historical buildings remain well-maintained. The air is fresh and clean. I am really happy to be here.”

Source: Jakarta Globe | November 18, 2010

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