In Bali, just about every aspiring dalang (puppeteer) starts out by learning to perform Arjuna Tapa, or Arjuna's Meditation. Taken from the Mahabharata, Arjuna Tapa tells the story of Arjuna, third of the brothers Pandava, and the challenges posed by various Gods and Demons that he faces while meditating in the mountains. Beautiful angels test his dedication; Krisna, disguised as a priest, tests his knowledge; the great pig demon, Momo Sinuka, tests his skills in battle; and Siva, disguised as a hunter, tests his bravery.
In my opinion, this story is quite fitting for a new puppeteer's first show. During my first performance of Arjuna Tapa, I couldn't help but feel like my dedication, knowledge, skills in battle, and-- most of all-- bravery were put to the test just as they were for Arjuna.
When I was given the opportunity to perform at the 2012 Bali Arts Festival and asked to create something that reflected the Western influence on Balinese art and culture, it seemed right to begin at Arjuna Tapa. Teaming up with the multi-talented musician, Ian Coss, who created synth versions of traditional Gender Wayang music, we were able to create an all American Balinese puppet troupe and from it came Alexander Tapa. Borrowing structural elements from its Mahabharata source text, Alexander Tapa is routed in traditional Balinese technique, but tells a new story that skewers Western ideas of life in Bali. Monkeys steal sunglasses, foreigners fight to buy a purportedly antique sword, and the piece culminates in a climactic show down between Alexander, who has Eat-Pray-Loved his way to Bali in search of his own personal Guru, and Momo Sinuka, back from the dead and hungry for tourists.
My footage of Alexander Tapa is limited. Above you will find a short clip from the premiere of Alexander Tapa, filmed from the side of the stage. Below it, an extract from a performance of Arjuna Tapa.
Alexander Tapa premiered in June of 2012 at the Bali Arts Festival.