Indonesian theatre and its double: Putu Wijaya paints a theatre of mental terror: Cobina Gillitt
In the Balinese theatre . . . everything that is a conception of the mind is only a pretext, a virtuality whose double has produced this intense stage poetry, this many hued special language.
(Artaud 1958: 62)
In my experience, a circular doubling-back manner of discussion often takes place when Western-trained theatre practitioners see, or should I say experience, Balineseborn Putu Wijaya’s theatrical work for the first time. Inevitably, as if they have discovered a fabulous treasure that no one else has noticed, there is the enthusiastic comment: “Now that’s the epitome of what Antonin Artaud meant by his ‘Theatre of Cruelty’!” The unstageable has been staged. Although I have performed on several tours and helped to lead many workshops with Putu3 and his group Teater Mandiri since 1988, I still feel my proverbial hackles rise when I hear this response. Perhaps overly possessive of Putu’s creative talents, I want to jump up and scream: “No! Artaud only saw a colonial exhibition of Balinese dance in Paris in 1931. Putu is Balinese. Can’t you see that Putu’s theatre doesn’t need to be explained in terms of a Western theorist who used his subjective reading of Balinese theatre to justify a personal crusade against naturalism in the theatre? Can’t you see that Putu came to it directly by virtue of being Balinese?” But is this really true? Putu’s reply is that he has never read Artaud, but it is up to the audience to decide whether that statement is true or not. He considers himself a “contaminated Balinese.” He claims that if he were to try to be Balinese in his work he would fail miserably, but at the same time he cannot deny his roots.