The business of producing concerts is not for the faint at heart. Three years in preparation, trust and faith in a project that must overcome cultural, linguistic, and physical distance requires courage on the part of everyone. So now comes the pleasure of commenting on the outcomes of the CUP of JAVA project, a joint project with ISI Yogyakarta, East West Center/University of Hawaii Music Department, Manoa, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, LA, and my own Foundation for World Arts.
Most people want to get to the bottom line, so let me start by saying that the concerts both in Hawaii and Los Angeles were major cultural and artistic events and audiences responded with rousing standing ovations. For those of us steeped in Javanese culture and Indonesia, we can say without hesitation that the productions were of the highest artistic quality and we felt so fortunate to see this production in our own city. The program prepared by the partners offered a wide range of works; each piece carefully considered to include the most classic of forms and the newest choreographic and music compositions coming out of Yogyakarta. Regardless of your familiarity with Classical Javanese Gamelan and Dance, there was no denying that you were seeing art and culture this is technically accomplished and artistically complex. For those of us who have studied these forms we knew that a production like this is hard to see even if you were to travel to Central Java. So for the 800 people who attended I could not be happier. A simple indication of the response was the tremendous excitement in the lobby after the show. The Consul General of Indonesia Mr. Umar Hadi and the Dean of the CAL Arts School of Music, David Rosenboom were beaming with satisfaction, each proud of the accomplishments of the cast.
Twenty-five member Cal Arts Gamelan
But the true meaning of this success go far beyond having a great show. For the ISI faculty that led the team, it was a realization of their life long dedication to teaching Classical Javanese Gamelan and Dance. Not only had they selected an outstanding group of students to train and perform, their own artistic vision was on the line. It is true they are often asked to travel abroad on cultural missions, but CUP of JAVA was different. They were working with American based artists who shared in the preparation/rehearsal process and who too had invested a great deal in the project outcome. This was a peer-to-peer cultural mission, a partnership, an artistic collaboration. Whatever the ISI group decided to include required sensitivity to their American partners as well as thinking about the expectations of the American public. As the producer of this project I was aware of all the challenges the ISI group faced, and at times I wondered if things would go well. The faculty at ISI are some of the busiest artists/teachers/cultural leaders that I have ever had the pleasure to know (the obligations of a UCLA dance or music faculty member pales in comparison.) While I knew Heni, Bambing and Anon would make good on their word, I was not sure how much time they would have to create, plan, rehearse, and travel.
On the American side both the UH Gamelan and the Cal Arts Gamelan received musical scores much later then they had wanted. Filled with their own concerns, Djoko Waluyo worried whether he had enough male voices for that section in the Lawung Dance? Gamelan players worried whether they would be able to understand and respond to the musical cues of a new conductor/drummer? Hardjo Susilo at University of Hawaii wondered, “Do we have enough space on the stage for all our instruments and six dancers swinging around seven foot poles?” “Will Anon Suneko compose music we can master in the short time available?” Then there is the question, “Will we be good enough?”
Gamelan is orchestral music with many different kinds of instruments each playing different parts, adding to this, vocal music is essential for the full sound. Fortunately, anyone who has become involved with Javanese Culture has developed the art of courtesy and composure. Whatever, stress and anxiety the Americans may have had they were never publicly visible during all the time we had together. Every problem was worked through; every word to the ISI team was spoken with utmost courtesy and decorum.
When thinking about the long term impact of the presentation of the performing arts we tend to focus on the psychological, social, emotional impact on the audience. In the case of CUP of JAVA the impact on the artists on the stage needs to be underscored. If you are a Javanese artist living and working in a rapidly changing Indonesian society where technology and marketplace forces seem to crowd you out of the conversation, to bring your work to the United States and to receive such affirmation by people of all walks of life reminds you that your work does have value and is not limited to your own local context. For the Americans on the stage, realized they are able to hold your own, I would go even further to say they offered a performance equal to gamelans in Central Java. The art form can and does transcend geographic and cultural boundaries. We saw this in action at the ARATANI World Series on Saturday November 29, 2014. I am filled with gratitude to all who worked so hard.
For a full visual report on the show please check out Jorge Vismara’s site: CUP of JAVA