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Learning and moving: The Planet, a lament by Garin Nugroho. #HF21

Some art you don't quite understand, but touches you deeply. The films by Paradjanov for example, or The Planet, a Lament by Garin Nugroho. Nugroho has chosen not to provide his performance with surtitles, so your rational brain has to be sidetracked for a while. What are they singing, what exactly is happening, what is it about? After a few minutes of running this same round, that part of your brain gives up and you can indulge in the moving beauty of the lamentations.

A man survives a natural disaster and washes up on an island. On film, we see how: he wrestles himself out of something that reminds me of a cocoon, fishing net and birth membrane. This man's rebirth as a drowning man to ensure the rebirth of the planet. The singer and narrator of the story gives him an egg, symbolising food, energy and a new planet. He must take care of the egg; the egg is the seed for a new world, after nature has destroyed the old one. That humans have contributed to the destruction becomes clear in the setting: the beach is littered with old clothes. I read it as a reference to our consumer society, but also to what remains after a tsunami, when the wearers of the clothes are no longer there. A pregnant image.

The sample of consumption

A thin plastic cloth with holes in it forms the projection screen: another reference of what we are doing to the environment. However, the environment strikes back, sending 3 hungry monsters onto the land, spawned from the remnants of human greed and our indigestible desire for consumption and production. The monsters are targeting the egg, they too need more energy and food.

The singers call for help and a bird comes to the rescue, leading man and egg to a nest in the last remaining forest. Too late: the monsters track down the egg and the man sacrifices himself to protect the egg. The final lament that sings of the man's death but also the saving of the egg goes straight to the heart. The language barrier proves no problem for this.

All-rounder Nugroho (he makes films, theatre, installations, and writes) drew his inspiration from all over the Indonesian archipelago: hip-hop street dance in Papua, Catholic lamentations from Flores, Javanese dance, traditional lamentations from the interior of Papua. In the performance, he uses song, dance and film.

Yet it has not become a fragmented performance, but a powerful and flowing whole. Leading this is the beautiful singing of musician, composer and pianist Septina Rosalina Layan. Sometimes vulnerable and soft, sometimes very powerful, she sings the laments and sucks you into the performance, assisted by the Mazmur Chorale choir from Kapung, West Timor.

The bird is played by Rianto, about whom last year's film Memories of my Body featured. He specialises in the Lengger, gender norm-crossing Javanese dance. His bird too is not gender specific, but delicate, light, comical and caring. Perhaps these are the character traits to save the world. A little more wouldn't hurt.


One of the prompts for The Planet was Nugroho's visit to Aceh after the 2004 tsunami. In an art project together with the victims there, he saw the despair and trauma, but also the hope for a new beginning. Another are the lamentations, which he listened to in the archipelago but also in Italy. For Nugroho, these lamentations are a process of transformation from pain to love and awakening.

In an interview with the Holland Festival, he says: "Personally, I think lamentations should make themselves felt when the world is hard and rough; when we have lost our connection to the raw experience of humanity, we have to find a way to evoke the experience through storytelling."

Actually, this performance was supposed to open the previous Holland Festival, but due to the pandemic it was postponed . And the eloquence is perhaps even stronger after this disastrous year of raw experience. At the applause, when Garin Nugroho also took the stage, I was overcome with emotion. Catharsis, that sums up the evening. And what a purifying experience theatre is.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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