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Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki collaborated with Gamelan Sekar Jaya choreographer Emiko Saraswati Susilo, composer I Dewa Putu Berata, and shadow puppet master Larry Reed to stage an interdisciplinary work formed from excerpts of The Mahabharata, a classic epic poem, that was told through the eyes of Draupadi, a principal female character. This project was scheduled to open at the Presidio Theater in San Francisco in mid-March of 2020, but the opening was cancelled due to public health closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, film excerpts were produced in lieu of a live performance.

While the work takes its inspiration from The Mahabharata, Aoki highlighted this culturally-specific work’s universal themes. Aoki will act as the storyteller, weaving together its dance, music, and puppetry elements. Berata and Susilo created movement and music and led the members of Gamelan Sekar Jaya in performing the work. In addition to providing direction and dramaturgy, Reed designed the scenic elements and lead a team of puppeteers in performing the theatrical shadow elements.

Lead artist Brenda Wong Aoki is a storyteller, anthologized playwright, producer, and artistic director, who is known for her agility across disciplines. As the first nationally recognized Asian American storyteller trained in Noh theatre, she selects stories inspired by traditional legends and everyday life.

The mission of Gamelan Sekar Jaya is to foster artistic exchange between Bali and the United States through residencies, workshops, performances, the study and preservation of traditional work, and the creation of innovative works of music and dance honoring Bali’s performing traditions. “Draupadi Project/Sheros” (working title) will premiere in spring 2020.

Photo of Brenda Wong Aoki by Hub Wilson