The U-M Gamelan Ensemble
Different islands in the vast Indonesian archipelago have their own individual forms of the music, and their own uses for it. The gamelan plays by itself, accompanies shadow-puppet dramas, and has entered into fusions with modern popular styles. Everywhere, however, it accompanies dance. This year's concert is a dance performance of the Indian epic the Ramayana, which came to Indonesia over 1,000 years ago and was absorbed into the region's ceaselessly syncretizing culture. The Ramayana tells the story of the renowned Prince Rama, whose beautiful consort Sinta is abducted by a ten-headed demon king. With the aid of an army of supernatural monkeys, Rama and his brother cross to the demon's island kingdom to rescue Sinta. The story has served as the basis for dance dramas and shadow-puppet players, and nowadays there are even Ramayana comic books.
Indeed, one of the most fascinating aspects of classical Indonesian music and dance is the extent to which they are live traditions. This new production is the creation of dancer-musician Wasi Bantolo, who teaches at Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia, the foremost conservatory on the Indonesian island of Java. His wife, Olivia Retno Widyastuti, a well-known classical Javanese dancer, will perform leading roles, and more than thirty other dancers are featured. The production showcases basic classical Javanese dance movements, contemporary styles, and moves borrowed from the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat. This new version, say the presenters, uses the traditional story "to explore crucial contemporary issues of preservation of the environment and the quest for peace in a time of global conflict."