Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Bali troupe entertain Japanese

Kadek Suartaya, Contributor, Tokyo

A large tent was beautifully decorated with Balinese gold painted textile prada while two big Bali style umbrellas stood tall, in front of the gate. In the background, dancers moved to music from the gamelan traditional orchestra.

The Balinese atmosphere was everywhere.

Lines of vendors offered a large variety of Balinese food from sate lilit (barbecued meat wrapped with spicy ingredients), pepes ikan (steamed fish) to lawar (a mixture of coconut grated with meat and vegetables). A number of amateur chefs performed cooking demonstrations to the delight of the enthusiastic audience. Each of the visitors was also allowed to taste the hot and spicy food.

Everyone enjoyed the Balinese music and cuisine, like visiting a folk party at a small banjar customary village somewhere on the island of Bali. In fact, the party was held at an art center in the faraway city of Shiga, a small town near Japan's largest lake Biwa.

The event was part of the Bali-Tokyo cultural exchange program represented by Suar Agung art group led by I Ketut Suwentra. The program was held from July through early August in three cities -- Shiga, Fukuoka and Tokyo.

It turned out the Japanese public was quite familiar with Balinese dance and music. A number of Japanese students who had pursued Balinese cultural studies at the Indonesia Arts Institute (ISI) at Denpasar, Bali, are now opening Balinese dance courses for Japanese residents.

Ami Hasegawa, 27, for instance, is now teaching Balinese dances to 15 female students at her dance school at Atugi, Kanagawa, near Tokyo. Hasegawa has created a distinctive dance choreography called Legong Sakura based on the Balinese classical dance Legong.

Moreover, every year, many Japanese artists go to Bali to study Balinese dance and culture at formal institutions like ISI or at local dance groups or from individuals in villages across the island. Upon returning to their country, the artists frequently gather and perform for the Japanese public.

On Aug. 2 and Aug. 3, Hasegawa and her colleagues performed a diverse range of Balinese dances from classical to more popular dances like Baris, Legong Lasem, Topeng Tua, Oleg Tamulilingan, Jauk Manis to Joged Bumbung folk dance.

At present, there are a number gamelan orchestras and dance groups in Tokyo. Sekar Jepun, one of the Balinese dance groups in Tokyo, has frequently performed in Bali and collaborated with other dance groups like Sekar Jaya, gamelan and dance groups from the United States.

The recent visit of the Suar Agung cultural troupe attracted fans of Balinese traditional dance and music, who flocked to performances and workshops in Osaka, Fukuoka and Tokyo. Extensive coverage by local media even attracted more participants to the workshops.

One of the participants, Hoshiromi said she was eager to attend the workshop after watching Suar Agung on local television. Her friend, Aik, has frequently visited Bali, mesmerized by the charms of the Balinese dances and culture.

The last performance in Japan took place at the Mitaka-shi Kokaido art center in Tokyo. There, some 25 Japanese female dancers were busy wrapping their long batik clothes, ready to follow the instructor's commands.

In fluent Japanese, Suwentra first introduced the cultural highlights of Bali, eloquently describing the background of each dance composition and its music to the participants.

Then, accompanied by two senior Balinese dancers, Ni Nyoman Wiliawati and Putu Made Astawa, Suwentra taught enthusiastic participants the basic steps of Balinese dance.

Despite limited time and space, the Balinese dance workshop offered the opportunity for both Balinese and Japanese artists to learn more from each other, showing that cultural dialog has given a better picture about what is now happening in Bali as well as in Indonesia.

The workshop's participants admitted they felt closer to Bali and its people.