Cup of Java: Gamelan and Dance from Java, Indonesia at Aratani Theatre

Astri Agustin Ayudiani performs "Panji Semirang"

Astri Agustin Ayudiani performs “Panji Semirang”

30 November 2014 — LOS ANGELES, CA — While dance cognoscenti know that European ballet was promoted in the late 1600s in France by King Louis XIV’s tireless dedication to court dancing, classical Javanese dance was similarly developed in the late 1700s by the Javanese sultans’ in order to promote and preserve Javanese culture through the performing arts. Cultivated for hundreds of years in the kraton of the Sultans of Yogyakarta, musicians and dancers introduce us to the world of court aesthetics. While Javanese classical dance and gamelan music of Yogyakarta achieve a somewhat meditative quality oriented toward self-understanding, composure, and introspection, the messages in this performance ranged from longing, loss, and love to battle and death. Many Javanese classical dances, which are rooted in Hindu and Buddhist epics, ancestor worship, and Javanese history, are aimed toward moral education and retelling of history that is rooted in indigenous customs, multiple foreign influences, and a syncretic blend of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and animist religions.

Classical Javanese dance flourished since the second half of the 18th century and is taught throughout Central Java in private schools, high schools, and universities. For Cup of Java, seven dancers and three musicians from Central Java, Institute Seni Indonesia, Yogyakarta (ISI Yogyakarta), Central Java joined with twenty-five musicians from California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) to present a program of classical dance and complex polyrhythms played on resonant bronze gamelan instruments. The first half of the show began and ended with magically transporting gamelan music and song. The first piece, Ladrang Lung Gadhung, Laras Pelog Pathet Nem, by an unknown composer, was arranged by Djoko Walujo (1981), and the second, Gotong Royong, Laras Pelog Pathet Nem, was composed by Djoko Walujo (1970). Karawitan and vocal performers were Wayan Budha, Q Burkhart, Matthew Clough-Hunter, Dew Corey, Geoff Dent, Aiden Gould, Sean Hayward, Anna Inuzuka, Hirotaka Inuzuka, Kayle Khanmohamed, Rhiannon Ledwell, Eugene Moon, Lucas Morin, Mary Jo Redman, Jessica Ross, Kerri Shak, Rumi Sokiran, Genevieve Tauxe, Michael Toyoshima, Endang Walujo, Lindawati, Nyoman Wenten, Sinta Widaningsih, and Tyler Yamin,  The dance pieces consisted of three shorter dances (a solo, a sextet, and a duet) and one dance drama choreographed by Bambang Pujasworo for this US premiere.

Panji Semirang, one of many versions of Panji stories about an East Javanese prince and his sweetheart, was a solo mask dance representing a young girl performing en travesti to mask her female identity as she travels the world alone longing for her prince. Depicting the young girl’s sadness and loss, this version, choreographed by Bambang Pudjasworo, was elegantly performed in the alusan (refined male) style by Astri Agustin Ayudiania. Ayudana’s attention to a balance of Bound-Flow and Free-Flow movement revealed her emotions and acceptance of her fate.

Lawung Jajar (c. 1750 – c. 1760), the oldest of the dances in this concert, originated at the time of Sultan Hamengkubuana I. Originally created as a military training routine, over the years it has become an iconic dance of symbols of masculine courage, physical control, and group solidarity. The dance movements of four trainees and their two leaders represented practices for accessing emotional strength and physical power that are performed in the unsur gagah (strong male) style with wide reaching arms and legs, broad poses, large steps, geometric Bound-Flow gestures, and percussive staccato feet. The trainees held long dowels that they used to portray ceremony, combat, order, and at times camaraderie. The group leaders were portrayed by Bambang Pudjasworo and I Nyoman Wenten, and the four trainees were portrayed by Oky Bima Reza Afrita, Tri Anggoro, Dahana Murpratama, and I Gede Radiana. Physical control and mental concentration are essential for this piece to be fulfilled, but this piece did not meet expectations. Dancers did not perform with the level of refinement and attention to detail that the other pieces reached. Small inconsistencies may have been due to the piece having been performed by dancers from two distant continents joining together for the first time, a feat in itself. All in all, the historical piece was enjoyable and a treat to have on the Aratani stage.

Beksan Menak, Rengganis – Widaninggar, choreographed by Rama Sasminta Mardawa of nDalem Pujokusuman, was performed in a more modern style of classical Javanese dance created by Sultan Hamengkubuana IX (d. 1989). Ayudini and Heni Winahyungsih portray Goddess Rengganis and Goddess Widaninggar, from a story by Amir Hamzah about the spread of Islam across Indonesia. In this brave battle, their aggressive attacks serve as a metaphor for the internal struggle every person experiences. This piece revealed a more angular, percussive, combative putri (female) style. Dancers performed with daggers using direct, strong, quick bursts that were so well coordinated with loud drumbeats that audience members could feel the attacks. The repeated circling and circling of dancers around each other with iterative engagements using a spoking action of the dagger is a traditional use of pathways in Javanese dance combat, which is mesmerizing and depicts the helplessness of the one being chased.

The culmination of this diverse program was Karna’s Choice, (premiere), a beksan wayang narrative-dance-music-song-drama about the sorrows of war, the love of a mother, and the loyalty of brothers as retold from the beloved Indian epic poem, the Mahabharata (c. 400 BCE). The level of physical and emotional technique among the performers (Pudjasworo, Winahyuningsih, Murpratama, Afrita, Radiana, and Anggoro) transported the audience into another world. It is the eve of the epic 18-day battle of Kurukshetra. Karna, the anti-hero-hero, is poised to join the Kaurava clan to battle the Pandava armies. Kunti approaches Karna and reveals her secret, that she is his mother and that that if he indeed goes to war, he will be fighting against his brother Arjuna. Caught in the inevitable sorrow of war and love, Karna makes a choice, to go to battle and remove hatred from the planet. He and Arjuna engage in battle. Arjuna shoots the fatal arrow and Karna succumbs to his fate, to stop war by giving up his life. This theme is omnipresent in world cultures, that to die for one’s family, one’s country, one will do right. The dancing was exquisite, the acting appropriately emotive, the singing and music enchanting. With grace, refined emotion, and control, every gesture and cadence was masterfully executed with precise intention and concentration. Karna’s Choice was impressively performed and produced. The message from Karna’s story is a reminder to audience members that we are still at war over 2400 years after the penning of the Mahabharata, with each warrior still hoping his or her self-sacrifice will bring an end to violence.

This collaborative performance at the Aratani Theatre, the opening venue for the Aratani World Series, was produced by Judy Mitoma in cooperation with the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center. Dance direction was by Bambang Pudjasworo and Heni Winahyuningsih (ISI Yogyakarta). Music direction was by Anon Suneka (ISI Yogyakarta), Djoko Waluyo, and Nyoman Wenten (Cal Arts). Beautiful lighting design was by Ric Zimmerman. Cup of Java was co-commissioned by California Institute of the Arts and the East West Center, University of Hawaii and supported by the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Los Angeles. Cup of Java was made possible by a generous grant from ISI Yogyakarta for both travel and preparation in Java. ISI Yogyakarta is the largest and most comprehensive undergraduate and graduate arts program in Indonesia. The faculty of Dance and Karawitan (classical Javanese gamelan) is considered the most distinguished group of Javanese performing arts professionals in Indonesia. With an emphasis on both traditional and new works, the faculty and students create and perform a wide range of public concerts each year. Considered a flagship program for Indonesia, they are frequently invited to perform abroad, and Los Angeles was happy to experience their performance at the Aratani Theatre on November 29, 2014.

Categories: Uncategorized

2 Comments on “Cup of Java: Gamelan and Dance from Java, Indonesia at Aratani Theatre”

  1. December 1, 2014 at 3:13 am #

    What a great overview of the dance form in addition to the vivid description of the works! Knowing more about the values of Javanese dance gave me a deeper appreciation of the movement style, refinement and storytelling your described.


  1. Cup of Java: Gamelan and Dance from Java, Indonesia at Aratani Theatre | Teresa Heiland Reviews - December 1, 2014

    […] Cup of Java: Gamelan and Dance from Java, Indonesia at Aratani Theatre. […]

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