Feature

Indonesian culture warms
up autumn in Paris

Telek dance is performed by Sebatu Group from Bali. The group toured France until November. (Courtesy of Steven Appel)
Telek dance is performed by Sebatu Group from Bali. The group toured France until November. (Courtesy of Steven Appel)

After the long summer break, cultural activities rev up again in the city of light.

French lovers of Indonesian culture and literature should be content with the autumnal offering of all things Indonesian in the French capital.

A Balinese dance troupe from Sebatu opened the season early on at the plush Theatre National de Chaillot, which stands opposite the Eiffel Tower on the opposite bank of the Seine River.

The dancers and musicians from Sebatu are already well-known in France and came to tour France, beginning with a week in Paris.

The first generation of these village dancers and musicians was rediscovered in the late 1960s by famous French musicologist Jacques Brunet who brought them over in 1972. They even danced before then president Georges Pompidou.

Twenty years later they performed at Opera Garnier in 1992, they just finished their tour of France on Nov. 4.

The troupe’s three-hour premiere thrilled the audiences in Paris.

“Despite them coming over regularly, each time it is a different performance and a fresh approach. Some performers are even the grandchildren of those who came in 1972,” Brunet said.

For young Lutschia Sudana, the daughter of film designer Pippa Cleator and Balinese actor Tapa Sudana, it was a wonderful experience.

“I liked the kecak dance the best,” said the girl, who has not been back to the fabled island since her birth there some 12 years ago.

The first part of the performance was dedicated to solo dances and gong kebyar gamelan orchestras, while the second part contained wayang wong theater and other theatrical performances.

The gambuh performance was saved for the end, as male dancers, who also acted out female roles in this version — cultivated in Kedisan, a neighboring village of Sebatu, perched high upon the mountain slopes of Bali.

In addition to the dance performance, program’s film screenings provided audiences an extra thrill as they viewed dance and trance of 1930s Bali.

The event, which contains a famous passage by the renowned Balinese dancer I Mario, was put together by Agnes Monteney.

Excerpts from films by Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Walter Spies, Miguel and Rose Covarubbias, and films by Rolf de Mare that deposited at the Dance Museum in Stockholm, were also featured in black-and-white.

Earlier, Parisian art lovers were wowed by Banjaran Gatotkaca – a performance by wayang orang Javanese-style theater troupe, at the big UNESCO Hall.

The show, presented by the Jaya Suprana School of Performing Arts in collaboration with the Wayang Orang Bharata troupe, presented a spirited performance taken from an excerpt from the epic Mahabharata.

Bajaran Gatotkaca recounts the tale of the birth, life and death of Gatotkaca in a piece celebrating noble philosophical moral values, heroism, loyalty and patriotism by incorporating dance styles with acrobatic elements.

In addition to the impressive premier held on Nov. 4, a 10-hour literary day celebrating Indonesian culture, organized by the Franco-Indonesian association Pasar Malam under the leadership of Johanna Lederer, came to the UNESCO building on Nov. 9.

The program began with a discussion about French writers in Java and was followed by a presentation of poems by Saut Situmorang.

A specially choreographed modern Indonesian dance by Kadek Puspasari was also brought in for the event, which also featured a panel discussion involving Indonesian speakers. The day was rounded out by a batik fashion show.

Plaited wonders from Borneo collected by French anthropologist Bernard Sellato are another Indonesian attraction on display at the Espace Asia in Paris. The expert was not able to attend because of a prolonged illness, but the show opened on Oct. 5 with an introduction by writer Elisabeth Inandiak and will run until next year.

The traditional objects from Kalimantan are made from rattan, pandanus and bamboo collected in the forest by the men and then plaited by the women of the Dayak tribes.

Sellato, who is also author of Plaited Arts from the Borneo Rainforest published by the Lontar Foundation together with the University of Hawaii Press, became a good friend of Hangin Bang, a wonderful Dayak Aoheng creator of plaited goods.

In 2005, Sellato created a foundation to aid these village artisans with the help of a company.

“All of these projects involving direct participation of those living in the villages are very decisive for the continuation of age-old traditions in contemporary Indonesia,” said Elisabeth, who also is involved with a similar project back home in Yogyakarta.

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