It’s a love story, far from the fairy tales you would recognise! ICN 2018 – Lakonna: A Musical, is an original musical tale of everlasting love intertwined with lies and deceit. It is a struggle for power between two brothers, a woman, and the position of village head.
With a team of 127 Indonesian students from Nanyang Technological University, and a script that was in development since June 2017, Lakonna is inspired by a folktale from Tana Toraja – famously known as the “Land of the Heavenly Kings”, a highland region in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Intentionally written as a reminder of today’s increasingly power-hungry world, it visualises that there is a price to pay when in the pursuit of power.
Artistic Director, Sherly Amelia Wijaya elaborates, “Our story focuses on the concept of Man’s ambition, viewed through the different, yet relatable perspectives of our characters. We have added depth and crafted a multi-faceted story that yields a different experience depending on which perspective you choose to take on. In this production, we adopted a rather sarcastic point of view on how one’s ambition could change lives forever.”
The Torajan culture is often described as mythical and mysterious. Regardless, the students have managed to fuse contemporary dance with the traditional tribal dance of Toraja, to showcase the different facets of the Torajan culture – from dancers leaping in-turn to celebrate war victories or mourn the deaths of their loved ones. This new, original choreography brings to the table, cultural elegance with a sense of familiarity.
This is thanks to the hours of research on Tana Toraja folktales that the Scriptwriters put in as they settled on “Batingna Lebonna”. Realising that “Batingna Lebonna” itself could be far more than just a story about love, but a story of ambition.
“One could say that we injected fuel into our story when we wrote our script. We came up with new characters and new plot arcs, filling in those gaps the original tale left; gaps waiting to be filled. We gave the story a new life; life that gave the story relevance in the world we live in today,” explains Scriptwriter, Hans Albert Lianto.
Adding on to the vibrant script, are the actors and dancers, clothed in colourful traditional costumes and a stage decorated just like a classic Torajan village. In the making of the sets, the team researched on the geographical location and scenery of Toraja, to ensure the Torajan atmospheric accuracy on stage – so far as to even contacting a Torajan architect during the design process!
“Our dream is to make the iconic Tongkonan – that is the traditional ancestral house of the Torajan people,” adds Artistic Director, Keefe Julian. “For our backdrops, we also do a lot of research on the design and the symbolism of the different Torajan motifs. After we finished researching and designing the sets and props that we need, we start sourcing the materials.”
These materials used varied from unused cardboards and newspapers to sturdy wood. Basically, each of the amazing sets in Lakonna are all handmade! This “do-it-yourself” mantra encompassed every part of the production, including the traditional Torajan costumes, which were tricky to make too.
The Toraja traditional male clothes consist mainly of the Seppa Tallung Buku, which are knee-length pants, accessorised with artifacts such as the kandaure, lipa’, and gayang. For women, the short-sleeved Pokko shirts of bright colours and matching skirts are common, but they were often decorated with beads that formed the necklace, headband, belt, and bracelet – which are much harder pieces to obtain.
“We sourced for the clothes and designed the actors’ costumes ourselves before we sewed them on. We tried to find unique colours that represent different characters and incorporate the essence of the traditional costume into our designs. We also imported the Kandore – which is the beads for the accessories – directly from Tana Toraja,” Artistic Director, Sherly Amelia Wijaya reiterates.
Of course, the most immersive element of any musical would be its soundtrack and musical accompaniment – yet another aspect that is originally written and scored by the students. By conceptualising the flow of the entire show, including all the musical numbers to be sung and the dance items to be performed, the Music Directors worked through penning down every lyric and scoring almost every melody of each song.
The results show, as the songs prepared are raw in emotional power – some will soothe you; some will downright entertain you; some can heal the deepest of wounds; and others are intended to hurt you, forever.
As many would associate Indonesia with more established touristy locations – Bali, being the most prominent example – which have adapted some of their practices to accommodate the surge in tourism, Tana Toraja on the other hand, remains strong to its roots. Essentially, this differentiation is what drove the team to take on this new cultural perspective, when drawing up the basis of Lakonna.
“Traditional Tongkonan houses are still plenty. Many still adhere to the traditional belief known as Aluk To Dolo, or “The Way of the Ancestors”. Their views on death and funeral practices remain unique. We hope that Lakonna would be able to give a taste of what we believe is an unknown property to not just Singaporeans, but even some Indonesians, too,” Vincent Wise from Marketing and Ticketing, tells us.
The students hope through their performance, the audience will be reminded of the pursuit of happiness and the various consequences of every choice and decision they make in life. All of us have dreams, but sometimes we forget about the people we hurt along the way. They wish to remind us that sometimes in the pursuit of joy, repercussions do follow!
Bidded as a one-night only, 2-hour immersive cultural experience – get ready to transport yourself to the ancient village of Toraja! After all, what better way to celebrate the month of love, than by witnessing a love story accompanied by exotic music and dance?
ICN 2018 – Lakonna: A Musical will be staged at the National Drama Centre, in the National Library Singapore, on Saturday, 3 February 2018 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Tickets start at $16, and are available here!