~ Rehearsal for "Gongs of Truth": Javanese Dance performance ~
~ Sunday February 1st at 4:00pm ~
~ Hill Auditorium ~
~ Leonardo Stoute, "Bapak Waleed" providing instruction and choreography for University of Michigan staff and student members of the Javanese Dance Ensemble at Hill Auditorium and the School of Music ~


(Original article found at http://www.umich.edu/~iinet/cseas/eventsandnews/abstracts/Jav.Dance/wasi.htm)

Center for Southeast Asian Studies

Matheus Wasi Bantolo and Olivia Retno Widyastuti: Artists-in-Residence at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies

Through the 2003-04 terms, Distinguished Visiting Professors Matheus Wasi Bantolo and his wife, Olivia Retno Widyastuti, will be teaching classes in Javanese dance and gamelan, the well-known Indonesian ensemble of percussive instruments. Wasi and Olivia, as their friends call them, are already experienced U-M professors: this fall is their second term teaching with support from the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, the School of Music, the Residential College, and the International Institute. They will also be organizing and giving informal performances with their students, and this year on Nov. 21 (12-1 pm), they will give a dance workshop with taped gamelan music at a Center for Southeast Asia’s Friday Talk Series in the International Institute. Next year, February 1, they will present, in the newly refurbished Hill Auditorium, a Javanese version of the Ramayana, the Indian epic poem. Wasi relates that while the Ramayana has been performed in Indonesia for centuries, he, like other choreographers, will be staging his interpretation of the interpretations of others, and so on.

Because features of the movements in Javanese dance are related to Pencak Silat, a form of Indonesian martial arts, Wasi and his wife have received instruction in Pencak Silat from Bapak Waleed "Leonardo Stoute" of Pencak Silat USA.

Since all their dance students up to now have been women, and even though females have assumed male roles and vice-versa, they are hoping to find men, if only for the Ramayana, because they are more likely to be sufficiently agile to perform male-type movements, such as leaping, jumping while assuming a pose, or bounding quickly over stage space larger than that used by women. Furthermore, some typically Indonesian male roles from the past, such as warrior, are, Wasi thinks, more believable if done by men. Wasi quickly adds that Indonesian women move about in ways women are generally perceived to move and act, especially if they are wearing ankle-length skirts: that is, with short steps, intricate hand poses, or extensions of their arms and shoulders that do not move too far away from the trunk. Quick to grin, he wants it to be known that any male student interested in exploring Javanese dance is always welcome in his classes, but, he points out, if they cannot be found the presentation will be equally as good.

Professor Bantolo was born in the central Javanese city, Surakarta, which along with the city Yogyakarta, was one of two capitals of the pre-colonial sixteenth century kingdom of Mataram, itself one of four such states. As royal cities, they were, and still are to some extent, centers of elite society, whose members (prijaji) maintain, minimally, their centuries-old urbanized, Hindu-Javanese culture, including its arts: gamelan, shadow puppet theatre (wayang kulit), drama, poetry, painting, and dance. In Surakarta, Wasi pursues dancing, composing, and choreographing while teaching classical dance and gamelan at Java's most prestigious conservatory of the arts, the Surakarta Academy of Indonesian Arts. He concentrates his teaching on the analysis of Javanese dance movement and “refined” or alusan style of dance. Like many professional artists, he started learning to play gamelan when he was young (about ten years old). But then he shifted his attention, when he was a high school student, to dance and choreography. He earned the equivalent of a Master’s degree (MagisterSeni) from the same academy where he works. Since the early 90s, he has choreographed ten dance pieces and performed in several western European countries, Japan, and the Philippines. His talents have been honored: He received top honors as an arts student, teacher, and performer: he was designated “best actor” of the National Wayang Orang Festival celebrating classical dance-drama. It is indeed surprising that someone of Wasi’s generation should choose to devote his life to the arts, for it is not a popular career, for a few reasons. But he is sure he made the right choice because of the various influences in his upbringing, not the least of which is that his parents spent lifetimes in the arts—his mother writes Javanese dramas and acts in shadow-puppet theatre—and that they both encouraged him to pursue his interests but allowed him the freedom to choose. Back to top

Professor Widyastuti is also from central Java, but from Sukoharjo. Like her husband, she is a graduate of the Surakarta Academy of Indonesian Arts, holding the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree. She also has performed abroad with Indonesian cultural missions to western European countries and Japan. (Wasi comments that the Japanese are eager students and audiences for classical Javanese dance.) In Surakarta, Olivia is a member of the dance ensemble at the Mangkunegaran and Kasunanan Palaces, courtly sites of the all-important “refined” dance style.

In the traditional Javanese arts, Wasi explains, “refined” means a quality of performance or execution that is elegant, polished, polite, or pure. More importantly, he adds, it must “have rasa,” that is, communicate the “correct” “feelings” and “understandings” of emotions, acts, or events. In India, and as it developed along with other bodies of belief in Java, rasa was a concept of Tantric spiritual beliefs, a theory of aesthetics in which music occupied a central place in religious or spiritual life. In courtly circles, certain kinds of music, say, gamelan, or other kinds of artistic creation, such as dance or shadow-puppet theatre, are still thought of as paths toward attaining spiritual enlightenment and ultimately union with the deity. Thus, to match refined states of being, creative objects should also be of refined (alus) character—smooth, flowing like water, Wasi says; and, moreover, be experienced by their audiences in a refined manner. According to a longtime scholar of gamelan, Judith Becker, this consists of “hearing” rather than “listening,” “seeing” as opposed to “watching,” so that one may “lose oneself” in the art and begin, or at least be open to it, one’s own spiritual journey.

While one might conclude that all Javanese gamelan pieces or dances are performed in the refined style, Wasi is quick to point out that, depending on the story to be told or mood to be evoked, music and dance can be massive, strong and warrior-like, or lively for relaxed entertainment. When the Ramayana will be performed, he will be the ensembles’ conductor—in central Java two ensembles, each tuned differently, play together. To conduct, he plays a drum, found at the front of an ensemble filled usually with twenty instruments (forty for both), to manage changes in tempo, transitions, and signal when a piece will end. At the rear sits a large gong that signals a piece’s phrase divisions. Wasi hopes to include a solo female singer, one of the two vocal instruments, the other, a chorus, sometimes accompanying gamelan performances. Commenting on what he thinks the members of a western audience should be taking with themselves, he hopes any audience will leave with the sense of having witnessed “beauty,” and thereby enlarging one’s aesthetic experience.

Javanese Dance and the Ramayana Dance Theater
According to Wasi, the core of Javanese dance movements is inspired by nature. They have to flow like a river, and sway like the leaves of the coconut tree caressed by the soft breeze.

These movements will be the basic language of the Ramayana Dance Theater. Wasi will also combine them with ones of Indonesian martial arts. He thinks the latter are basic movement forms of Javanese dance and Indonesian dance in general.

For the past two millennia, The Ramayana has been among the most important
literary and oral texts of the world. An ancient Indian epic, it appeared in Java more than a thousand years ago. It has served as the basis for innumerable performances as a shadow-puppet play and as dance-drama, and is portrayed in bas-relief on some of the most famous Hindu-Javanese temples.

The Ramayana, is quite simply, the greatest of Indian epics and one of the world's supreme masterpieces of storytelling. The tale involves Prince Rama, renowned for his wisdom, skill as a warrior, and spiritual achievements who is banned to the forest for fourteen years. There a ten-headed demon king abducts Rama's beautiful consort, Sita, taking her to his kingdom in Sri Langka. With the aid of an army of supernatural
monkey, Rama and his brother Laksmana cross to the island kingdom and gain Sita back.

On February 1, 2004 in Hill Auditorium, the University of Michigan Gamelan Ensemble will mount a new interpretation of the Ramayana. A famous Indonesian dancer, musician and choreographer, Wasi Bantolo, who teaches at the foremost conservatory of music and dance in Java will choreograph the new version. He and his wife, Olivia Retno Widyastuti, a well-known Javanese dancer will dance leading roles and are artists-in- residence at the University of Michigan. His interpretation encourages the viewer to question current issues in the world, especially care of the environment, use of force to solve problems and war. He will have 35 dancers on stage and some 30 musicians, including several people trained in the art of pencak silat (Indonesian martial arts). He has composed much of the music for the performance

(Original article found at http://www.umich.edu/~iinet/cseas/eventsandnews/abstracts/Jav.Dance/wasi.htm)


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