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Love and the struggles of war in 18th century Java

Article - May 13, 2014
Described as a collosal dance show, Matah Ati is a theatrical production depicting Javanese culture
Indonesian culture is well known to be colourful and rich, yet perhaps few outside Indonesia know just how diverse it is, with more than 700 ethnic groups sharing the country; dances, cuisine and art, for example, are quite varied. Within the country, Indonesians often admit to not having a strong grasp on their own history and culture, a mirror of the nation’s identity.
 
A local movement to promote arts as a reflection and reverence to Indonesia’s past is underway, best exemplified by Matah Ati, a theatrical performance that represents a historical anecdote based on love, loyalty and the struggles of war.
 
Premiered in 2012, Matah Ati is produced, written and directed by Atilah Soeryadjaya, who was partly inspired by the crumbling reputation of the city of Surakarta (aka Solo) due to terrorist attacks. 
 
“I ended up dreaming of ways to bring Solo’s artistry to the grandest state…to erase that erroneous image of Solo,” she says. “Hence, Matah Ati was conceived through research and after a process spanning over two and a half years.” 
“Matah Ati was conceived through research and after a process spanning over two and a half years”

Atilah Soeryadjaya,
Executive Producer, Writer, Director and Costume Designer of Matah Ati
She adds, “May it serve as inspiration for the younger generation to love their traditions and culture.”
 
The story is set in the 18th century when Java was under the control of the East India Company (VOC). When the young exiled prince from Nglaroh, Raden Mas Said, returned home to fight the injustice and humiliation the royal governor was inflicting on his people, he met Rubiya, a teenage girl from the village of Matah, and discovered she had a special, divine gift. 
 
They married, her name was changed to Raden Ayu Matah Ati, and together they led the successful, 16-year struggle against the politicians and the VOC. Matah Ati, who became a symbol of spirit, resilience and equality, commanded a troop of women soldiers.
 
The play’s style is derived from Javanese opera and spectators delight in a 150-strong cast of dancers and musicians, marvellous costumes, and beautiful choreography and musical accompaniment, complete with vocal narration. 

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