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Old Mask: Reflection on Wisdom of a Commander

Old Mask Reflection on Wisdom of a CommanderTHE Old Mask is one of the central figures in the performing art of the Pajegan Mask ritual. As the name implies, the Pajegan mask dance drama (pajegan or majeg meaning to buy up) is a single dancer performing a variety of characters. The main characters contained in the Pajegan mask dance drama consist of the pangelembar (hard mask and old mask), panasar, prince (king and chief minister) and bondres (folk) and ends with the appearance of the Sidakarya mask dancer.

According to a lecturer from the Faculty of Performing Arts, the Indonesia Institute of Arts (ISI) Denpasar, Tjokorda Raka Tisnu, the staging of the old mask was an integral part in the staging of Pajengan mask presented in religious procession in the innermost courtyard (uttama mandala) of temple and cremation ritual. By and large, the storyline presented originated in the chronicle history.

Performance of the Pajegan mask was begun with the presentation of figure with strong character. The mask had reddish dark color, bulging eyes, and a pair of thick black mustache. Its movement was agile, elegant and having authoritative steps. Appearance of this character was followed by the appearance of the elderly character. Its hair, eyebrows and mustache turned white with slow motion but displayed wise eyes.

“In staging this Pajegan mask, the two figures performed first are called pangelembar masks. Movement of the old mask dance was entirely improvised where the dancer showed off its expertise at dancing and animating the character of the elder,” said Raka Tisnu, a figure known by the lovers of the art in Bali usually playing the antagonistic role as Duryudana and Ravana in ballet performance.

Raka Tisnu asserted, the old mask actually reflected the figure of chief minister or a commander who served as adviser. It meant the old mask was actually a serious role with wise and prudent character. The dancers understanding about the role and position of the old mask as royal advisor would never ‘derail’ the wise figure into a farce intended to provoke laughter of the audience.

“Unfortunately, in the current development, there are a number of dancers that derail the old mask dance so that it no longer fits with the norms or character of a wise and authoritative chief minister. Lately, there are a number of dancers who dance by inserting jokes in the old mask dance like catching fleas and discarding snots indiscriminately. I think it is an excessive and improper improvisation by the artist. Such creativity is excessive and must be corrected. If there is indeed a chief minister behaving like that, he will be dismissed by the king because he does not reflect the behavior of a chief minister that should become a paragon,” he criticized.

“Wild” creativity
Furthermore, this famous Balinese dancer from Singapadu village, Gianyar, reminded the Balinese artists not to make ‘wild’ improvisation and creativity that would ‘hurt’ the meaning, nature and function of the character that should be presented seriously. Moreover, in the presentation of the Pajegan mask an artist was truly given the freedom to improvise and develop the dance movement that could provoke laughter of the audience through the performance of bebondresan figures.

“If the artists want to make the audience feel at home while watching and doubling up with laughter, the exploration can actually be done in the performance of bondres denoting a role that is not too serious. Do not give excessive improvisation to the old mask that will reduce the significance of the play itself,” he warned.

According to Raka Tisnu, the Old Mask dance in the past was a series of Pajegan masks where a dancer was demanded to expertly present all the existing characters and roles. In other words, a figure should be capable of playing the hard mask, old mask, penasar, king, bondres and the sanctified Sidakarya mask becoming the core in the staging for the sake of religious rites.

In the context of this Pajegan mask, a dancer was required to master religious philosophy so that he could give enlightenment to people or audience watching the play. But in the present era, the dance drama mask was not always presented by a dancer for all but sometimes performed by four or five dancers alternately so that they were called five masks.

“Probably, this development was based on the desire of people to pay devotional works in religious ceremonies by their dancing skills. However, the dancer trusted to play the Sidakarya mask must meet certain conditions such having got an initiation (self-purification) rite. Therefore, not any dancer could play the role though having skill to do so,” he said.

When met separately, the Rector of the ISI Denpasar, Prof. Dr. I Wayan Rai S, did not deny if the old mask dance had undergone a number of shifts. He also agreed if the figure of the old mask was reflection of an old chief minister raising a wise aura. In other words, he personally regretted if any dancer inserted improper movement that did not reflect the character of the old mask as a chief minister.

“A dancer must understand the nature of the role performed. Improvisation is fine as long as it does not deviate from the existing norms. Do not make improver humorous movement. Do not let the old mask have the image as an adviser then slips as farce role,” he warned.

In terms of gamelan accompaniment, Rai said that every character in the mask had its own typical gamelan composition, either accompanied by gong kebyar and gong gede. A hard mask character was accompanied by loud and elegant gilak gamelan composition.

Meanwhile, the old mask accompanied by tabuh telu gamelan composition tended to be slow. Similarly, the other characters had a distinctive gamelan accompaniment. “In the context of this gamelan accompaniment, I do not see any extreme shifts in the movement as found in the old mask dance where a number of dancers inserted humorous movements,” he said. (BTN/ian)

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