The history of the performing arts in Jakarta is as varied and fascinating as the city itself. Roving street entertainers sang, danced, performed feats of magic and daring, and acted out stories. This tradition continues today in pasar and residential areas. Cikini especially is a center of performing arts in Jakarta.
In 17th century, more formal performance were held for VOC administrators and personnel in the Pasar Ikan area. In Heeren Logement (Gentlemen’s Lodgings), performers from Europe as well as local dancers and musicians entertained the Dutch. The Dutch also held their own shows, including raucous parodies, but Government-General J.P.Coen eventually banned this entertainment. Performances in Pasar Ikan continued to be held until the early 1800s, when theater was built in the new area of Weltevreden.
In modern times, Jakarta has seen the growth of several centers for the performing arts, each with distinctive character. Among these are Gedung Kesenian, Taman Ismail Marzuki, Institut Kesenian Jakarta, Bharata Theater, Salihara, and Taman Mini Indonesia Indah.
Javanese dance evolved from the sacred court dances of the sultanates of Yogyakarta and Solo. Classical dance can be divided into the court dances and traditional regional dances. Many newer dances are adaptations of classical variations. Control over all movement is essential for a good Javanese dancer. Fingers, hands, arms, feet, knees, and thighs are all moved and held at extreme angles, while the torso remains still. Stories are told through minute changes in these movements.
Many styles of music compete for listeners in Jakarta. Of the more traditional, gamelan and keroncong music merit special mention. The word gamelan comes from gamel (mallet). The gamelan orchestra is composed almost exclusively of bronze percussion instruments, which are struck with a mallet to produce sound. The instruments are tuned to a specific scale. The most sophisticated gamelan orchestra consists of hanging, horizontal, and knobbed gongs; kettles; cymbals; xylophones; a zither; a flute; a rebab (string and bow instrument); drums; and voices.
The keroncong looks like a small guitar with five strings and comes in three sizes and pitches. The music combines Javanese characteristics, including gamelan-like rhythms, with Portuguese melodies and harmonies. Research suggests that a form of keroncong music may have originated in North Africa and later been playedin Portugal when the Moors conquered Spain and Portugal. The Portuguese, in turn, took keroncong to Goa and Malacca. After the fall of the Malacca in 1641, captive Portuguese introduced the music to the island of Java. The most popular style today is called Keroncong Morisko.
Two other Indonesian musical instruments and forms of music performed frequently in Jakarta are the Sundaneseangklung, made of varying lengths and thicknesses of bamboo suspended in a wooden frame, and the kolintangfrom North Sulawesi, a table-height wooden xylophone.
Local theater with performances by actors instead of puppets can be divided into wayangtopeng, which is performed by actors wearing masks, and wayang orang. Each region has distinctive masks; Javanese masks tend to be somewhat life-like, while Balinese masks are more unusual. In wayang orang performances, actors and classical Javanese dancers portray the characters found in the great Hindu epics. Gamelan music and the dalanghave roles in this type of theater, but the dialogue between the actors, spoken in the high Javanese language, is more important. Spectacular action in the dance sequences is also very important. A full play may require 100 performers and may last from six hours to three days. In Jakarta, various types of wayang performances are held in Museum Wayang, Gedung Kesenian, Bharata Theater, and Taman Mini Indonesia Indah.