Bates hosts touring performers from West Java

Two performers expert in the puppetry and music of Sunda, a mountainous western region of the Indonesian island of Java, offer a performance and a puppet-carving demonstration that are open to the public during their weeklong visit to Bates College.

Otong Rasta and his son, Atik Rasta, give a performance using wooden-rod puppets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 4, in the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall, 75 Russell St. They will be accompanied by students studying gamelan, the traditional Indonesian gong-chime orchestra, in the springtime course “Performing Musical Art of Indonesia.”

The puppet-carving demonstration takes place at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 5, in Olin Arts Center’s Room 243.

The Rastas’ visit is sponsored by the Freeman Foundation. For more information about the performance and demonstration, call 207-786-6135.

Otong Rasta is a leading musician, teacher and performer of “wayang golek,” a form of wooden-rod puppet theater. He specializes in a repertoire of stories that tell of Java’s conversion to Islam.

Atik Rasta is also a puppeteer and is a professional drummer in the traditional Sundanese style. The pair come to Bates as part of an educational tour also including the University of Pittsburgh, Kenyon College and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The Sundanese performing arts are distinguished from Central Javanese and Balinese traditions by a style, sometimes described as “spicier” than the others, that involves a great deal of playfulness and humor.

Typically, wayang golek performances take place at night and last at least six hours. They are given for many different reasons including weddings and various anniversaries, giving thanks to the gods, or asking for a good harvest, good luck or protection from evil. The stories are often taken from the Hindu epics “The Ramayana” and “The Mahabharata.” The puppets are beautifully carved and painted, and adorned with lovely, colorful costumes. Typically around 60 puppets are used during a performance.

In addition to performing and teaching Bates students during their visit, the Rastas will demonstrate puppet theater to local schools including Lewiston’s Pettengill School.

With offices in New York City and Stowe, Vt., the Freeman Foundation was created by AIG Insurance Company co-founder Mansfield Freeman to promote better relationships and understanding between the United States and the countries of East Asia. In December 2001, the foundation gave Bates a four-year, $400,000 grant intended to enhance and energize the study of Asia and Asian culture across the curriculum.

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