Performing artists from the Indonesian Institute of Arts at Surakarta, Central Java visited U-M this fall to celebrate the initiation of a new, formal partnership between the Institute and the University of Michigan’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS). The partnership will provide the framework for more frequent artistic collaboration and increased teaching about Javanese performing arts at U-M.
“This partnership deepens the relationship between our two schools," said Allen Hicken, director of CSEAS. "It will make possible greater and more regular collaborative efforts to bolster those already taking place between our faculty members."
The partnership is supported by Counsel General Beny Bahanadewa of the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Chicago as well as the Indonesian National Ministry of Education and has been deemed by Bahanadewa as a “wonderful opportunity to strengthen the teaching of Javanese arts and culture at the University of Michigan.”
U-M has a long tradition of focus on the study of Javanese arts, music, and literature through faculty members such as Alton (Pete) Becker (Emeritus, Linguistics), Judith Becker (Emerita, Musicology), Nancy Florida (Indonesian Languages and Literatures), and Susan Walton (Residential College).
Sixteen performing artists, adorned in traditional Javanese “batik,” an elaborately patterned cloth, and royal velvet, performed to sold-out crowds in the new Creative Commons Atelier in U-M’s North Quad on Friday, Sept. 23 and Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011. Their theatrically painted faces represented characters from a variety of traditional stories.
The performances showed the range of Javanese traditional arts, from the tender, slow “Srimpi” court dance to the vigorous “Cakil Bambangan,” which depicts a battle between the hero Arjuna of the Mahabharata and the ogre Cakil, to the complicated masked dance "Sekar Taji."
The artists also performed a Javanese shadow puppet play, called “wayang.” The episode performed came from the pan-Asian “Mahabharata” epic. Both evenings included gamelan music, as accompaniment to the dances and the wayang, as well as stand–alone musical performances.
The gamelan is an orchestra of bronze gongs originating from Java. The Stearns Collection in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance has owned the U-M gamelan since 1967, and the CSEAS, in collaboration with other units, frequently brings visiting artists to campus both to teach gamelan music and to offer spectacular performances in Javanese artistic traditions at U-M.
Susan Walton, director of the Gamelan Ensemble, called the new partnership between the Indonesian Institute of Arts and CSEAS very welcome. “I believe with this formalized relationship, we will be able to deepen the ties between our two schools, bringing more frequent guest artists to Michigan and sharing Javanese musical cultural with more of the community,” she said. Walton teaches beginning and advanced gamelan at the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.
The Center for Southeast Asian Studies provides programming and resources on Southeast Asia to the university community. The performances were also supported by the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments, North Quad Programming, the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, and the Office of the Vice Provost of Academic Affairs.