October 2011

Arts & Letters

Music theatre masterpiece

By Robyn Archer
Scene from 'The Theft of Sita'. Image courtesy of Melbourne Festival.
An Australian–Indonesian production - ‘The Theft of Sita’, 2000

In The Theft of Sita, the roles undertaken by its two instigating creators – Nigel Jamieson shaped the work as dramaturge and director; Paul Grabowsky shaped the music – attest to its quality. They both acknowledged an intense collaboration when working with the production’s Balinese artists. In keeping with Balinese tradition, the work was initially performed outdoors and combined the skills of a master puppeteer in Wayan Kulit, a traditional form able to carry contemporary political themes. The story’s premise – the destruction of beauty (sita) and the way of life in the Balinese environment – was politically challenging, but the work was delivered with skill, zest and joy. It was accompanied by a fusion of Australian contemporary jazz improvisation and Indonesian gamelan. The Theft of Sita sold out every performance it played in Australia and won the 2000 Green Room Award in Melbourne, among others. By the time I caught up with it again at the Zürcher Theater Spektakel it had been performed 73 times all over the world. Given that most music theatre creators feel lucky to get a few performances in an opening season and maybe a couple more, this was a rare achievement.

Robyn Archer

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