Lincoln Center Festival 2005 shows off its impressive international wares with “I La Galigo,” an eye-popping spectacle by visionary helmer Robert Wilson. Distilled from a 14th-century creation myth that originated with the Bugis people of Indonesia, this exotic tale follows the epic adventures of a reckless hero whose incestuous love for his twin sister threatens the cosmological order of the universe. Set to the exotic music of Rahayu Supanggah, sung and chanted by a small chorus of native voices and performed in the ritualized movements of dance, acrobatics and martial arts, florid material is just the ticket for Wilson’s magisterial visual touch.
Better leave it to New Age theologians to debate the religious significance of the text, which hews to the classic maturation myth of the youthful hero who brings his civilization to the brink of destruction before learning to subdue his personal passions for the greater good of his people. Theater pros are better advised to take notes on the technical wizardry that has gone into this lavish production.
Although no one takes 45 minutes to cross from stage left to right, as was the case with his 11-hour production of “Einstein on the Beach,” Wilson still executes the most elegant stage crosses in any theatrical hemisphere. In the opening scene and under the watchful eyes of the gods, a procession of villagers carrying the tools of their trades and the instruments of their art makes the cross in a slow, stately fashion that sets the pace for the story to come.
And while he seems to have retired that drop of green that lent an eerie aqueous quality to his signature background hue of cerulean blue, this master colorist still lights a stage with unearthly brilliance. Here, it is predominantly golden saffron and a flaming shade of red — colors that both ignite the senses and arouse the mind — that saturate the stage on which this morality tale is played out.
With a small group of musicians huddled on the floor and offstage voices chanting verses from the epic poem, the platform is set for I La Galigo (M. Gentille Andi Lolo), the young prince of the Middle World, to demand a recounting of the exploits of his father that brought ruin — and redemption — to his earthly kingdom. It takes some 50 Indonesian performers and musicians to narrate the saga, which includes the participation of gods from the Upper and Under Worlds as well as the mortals of the Middle World, where most of the action, such as it is, takes place.
Scenes unfold in a dreamlike fashion as the warrior King Sawerigading (Kadek Tegeh Okta WM) enacts the passion for his twin sister, We Tenriabeng (Ascafeony Daengtanang Maladjong), that threatens the stability of the middle kingdom inhabited by humans. “These children are destined to fall in love,” an oracle warns. “Incest will destroy the kingdom. They can have everything in the world but each other.”
Although Wilson has always been one for the grand visual gesture, he stages the love scene in which the Golden Twins acknowledge their mutual passion with astonishing intimacy. Enclosed in a box of white light, We Tenriabeng’s bedroom seems to float somewhere in space, well beyond the reach of the all-seeing gods.
That illusion is soon shattered, however, as affronted gods descend from the Upper World and pop up from the nether regions to set the hero straight on what is and is not permissible behavior for a prince of his stature (incest being a top-of-the-chart no-no).
In one of the more human scenes of this unworldly narrative, a chastened Sawerigading goes off to woo his cousin, Princess We Cudaiq (Sri Qadariatin), who initially turns him down with a delicious show of disdain. Costumer Joachim Herzog has suited the princess in gorgeous armor for her big scene — a tightly ruched yellow gown, a rigid beehive hairdo and armloads of golden bangles that make a mighty clatter when she waves away her suitor.
Sawerigading has a lot more to learn before he comes to maturity, and truth to tell, he could have learned it in two hours or less. (Which is about when audience members started peeling off for the exits.) But while the totality of the production is a bit of a drain, the individual scenic effects — from the upside-down ladder descent of a god from the Upper Kingdom to the startling flame-up of a blood-red scrim — are never less than astonishing.