An Ancient Epic Critiques Modern Conflict: Javanese Dance-Drama at the University of Michigan
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The International Institute is proud to announce that it helped sponsor a highly unusual event at the University of Michigan: the world premier of "Gongs of Truth: The Ramayana: Javanese Gamelan Dance-Drama" Sunday February 1, 2004, in Hill Auditorium. The music was played by some 30 musicians of the University of Michigan Gamelan, an ensemble of glittering cast bronze metalophones, xylophones, drums and gongs. Thirty-five dancers adorned in resplendent Javanese costumes performed in this lavish spectacle. This ambitious production was the creation of renowned dancer-musician Wasi Bantolo, who teaches at Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia, the foremost conservatory in Java, and is currently an artist-in-residence at the Residential College at the University of Michigan. He and his wife, Olivia Retno Widyastuti, a well-known classical Javanese dancer, danced leading roles. The choreography was an innovative blend of classical Javanese dance movements, the traditional Indonesian martial art form of pencak silat, and contemporary Javanese and Western dance movements. The concert drew an audience of some 3,200 people.
Throughout its 2000-year history, The Ramayana has been the basis for innumerable performances as a shadow-puppet play and dance-drama and is portrayed in bas-relief on the walls of some of the greatest Hindu-Javanese temples. This masterpiece epic tells of Prince Rama, renowned for his wisdom, skill as a warrior, and spiritual accomplishments, who is banished to the forest for 14 years. There, a ten-headed demon-king, Rahwana, abducts Rama's beautiful consort, Sinta, taking her to his kingdom in Alengka. With the aid of an army of supernatural monkeys, Rama and his brother Lesmana cross to the island kingdom to rescue Sinta.
Wasi Bantolo's new interpretation of the ancient Ramayana epic provides a critique of the use of force in the world. The drama begins with a scene of peaceful life on earth. This tranquil life is shaken when two human beings, a man and a woman, become lustful and ambitious. From their union spring monsters—Rahwana and his siblings. Rahwana uses his power, anger and greed to take over the world.
Wasi comments, "I chose this beginning because I think the birth of these demons starts the chaos in the world. This is related to what happens in our world: the wrong use of knowledge and power results in war."
This performance is a highly unusual event for the University of Michigan and for Indonesian music programs throughout the U.S. Although many other universities put on Javanese music and dance performances, they rarely mount full-length dance dramas that are as ambitious in scope and design or as innovative as this performance. In addition to the International Institute, sponsors included the Residential College, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments. It is an example of the kind of multi-disciplinary, international programming that combines the arts, social sciences, local community and university resources, and it is a credit to the University of Michigan.
The presence of the two Javanese artists-in-residence on our campus for the past year has stimulated interest in South and Southeast Asian studies. There are now four academic courses taught at the Residential College devoted to South and Southeast Asian studies, as well as four dance classes taught in the RC and four gamelan classes taught in the School of Music.
Courses to be taught on Indonesian performing arts next year include:
Beginning Javanese Dance
(RC IDIV 350.001), Olivia Retno Widyastuti, fall and winter. Students will study the technical skills, vocabulary and repertory of classical Javanese dance.
Advanced Javanese dance
(RC IDIV 351), Wasi Bantolo, fall and winter. This course requires that students have some background in Javanese dance. Students will learn dances that will be performed in a concert in March or April.
Arts and Ideas of Modern South and Southeast Asia
(HUMS 308), Susan Walton, fall. Focusing primarily on India, Thailand and Indonesia, this course examines the aesthetic responses of twentieth-century writers, musicians, and dancers as they come into contact with Western ideas.
Performance Arts of South and Southeast Asia
(HUMS 333), Susan Walton, winter. This course focuses on performances (theater, music, dance and television) of The Ramayana in India, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. It will examine three important dimensions of performances: sound, image, and event.
Beginning Javanese Gamelan
(Ensemble 406), School of Music.
Advanced Javanese Gamelan
(Ensemble 407), prior experience required, School of Music.