Saturday, 30 August 2008

Is Bali Still Little Java – an Artist’s Perspective

Foreigners often ask me why Bali has not become independent from Indonesia.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Dutch cartographers referred to Bali as ‘Little Java’, so similar were the cultures.

Today the cultures are still very similar―particularly the rituals of the palaces, which in Java have remained ‘hybrid’ Hindu―and Java still regards Bali as her glamorous younger sister.

Bali, however, has become more ‘wary’ of Java since the rise in radical Islamist terrorism yet still retains an intense sense of pride in being ‘Indonesian’.

The oath “Demi Bangsa, Demi Negara” (“For my people, for my country”) is bred into every Indonesian, from an early age and the Balinese are no exception. They are still fervently patriotic, despite the decline in roadside Independence Day decorations during the post-Soeharto era.

Soeharto was immensely popular in Bali because he defended the faith, the Balinese faith, which is the backbone of their existence. Soeharto’s Golkar party chief for the ‘Development Decades’ was none other than Anak Agung Ngurah Manik Parasara, the erstwhile Raja of Denpasar and the biggest heartthrob and superhero in Southern Bali. His family, the Royal House of Pemecutan―all descended from 15th century East Javanese prince, Arya Kenceng―still wear a version of Javanese court dress.

Scholars of Bali know that high Balinese is, for the most part, Javanese.

So many Balinese dance forms derive from Java―the Barong Dance, the Gandrung, the Tari Ular (Banyuwangi’s gift to the world!), to name but a few. The Balinese quest for military-issue conservatism comes from Java too: the crisp safari jackets of all officials (before Independence, Balinese dress was famously louche), as do the ghastly television shows and the newspapers with their small-town prejudices.

Throughout history, many Balinese rajas have taken Javanese wives―plucked, gently, from the mini-palaces of East and Central Java and Madura (the Legong Kraton Dance was perhaps created for the celebration of one such union). Today, Balinese workers visit little ‘cafes’ discreetly set into the rice fields, where Javanese wives are available on request.

Post independence, the ‘Bali holiday’ became Jakarta’s answer to the Englishman’s weekend in Paris.

In 1969, a young Jakartan couple―Wija and Judith Waworuntu―founded the Tandjung Sari Hotel in Sanur. They invited le tout Jakarta to discover Bali’s magical and mystical culture. Wija is, to a great extent, the founder of Bali’s Modern Cultural Tourism era.

During my first decade in Bali, in the 1970s, I used to despair at the way my young Jakartan friends―generally the children of the mega-corruptors whose gardens I was doing―drove their cars into the grounds of the Sanur Beach Cottages, George Benson music blaring, and parked on the grass. They would then call a Balinese (“Mas, Mas”, the Javanese word for waiter and which Balinese hate) to move the car.

Today, Jakarta regards Bali as its cultured, culinary-conscious and cash-crazy cousin; the crème de la crème of Jakartan society now have second homes in Bali; names such Dian Soedardjo (whose husband owns the Bulgari and Four Seasons Jimbaran), Mirta Kartohadiprodjo (popular publisher of Femina and Dewi magazines), Soedarmadji Damais, Mark and Mary Edelson (founders of Alila Hotels and ‘Get Going, Gloria’ herbal laxatives, respectively), and the Alisjahbana family (always represented by Pia at important Balinese cultural events). Choreographer Guruh Soekarno Putra (whose grandmother was Balinese), helped found the prestigious TIRTA SARI gamelan and dance troupe in Peliatan. Sir Warwick Purser, the popular lifestyle guru, a born again Javanese, also has a winter palace in Bali.

It is in the fields of religion and the arts, however, that Java and Bali remain close. Balinese palaces―in particular Puri Saren Ubud―now actively promote the revival of Hinduism in East and Central Java: the consecration of Candi Ceto near Solo, for example, was co-sponsored by the local (Moslem) mayor of Karanganyar.

Artistically, so many former Jakartans―painters, writers and photographers―are now based in Bali. Bali is home to photographers Rio Helmi and Rama Surya, dancer Restu Kusumaningrum, sculptor Pintor Sirait, writer Jamie James, batik impresario Bin, and many, many others.

Just as the world’s media is re-branding Bali as the home of minimalist hedonism―see the latest AIR FRANCE ‘Fly to Denpasar’ ad ( left) showing a trendoid fashionista sitting on a brutalist concrete deck (no plants) outside a microwave-look ‘smart villa’ on Bali’s Bukit Peninsula―the national press has stepped up its adoration of ‘Cultural Bali’. The recent Ubud cremation got huge front-page coverage, as did the Raja of Tabanan’s anti-pestilence rat cremation. As we go to press, a private television station is working on a series called ‘Bulé Masuk Kampung – Versi Homo, Legian’.

It was Jakarta’s flamboyant Minister of Tourism, Joop Ave, himself who first said: “Let Bali be known for cultural tourism, not a culture of tourism”.

It seems that Java and Bali will always be locked at the hip, but Bali has outgrown its elder sister in terms of internationalism and sophistication.

As published on JakartaKini August 2008

Ibu-Ibu Gaya

Ever since my very first trip to Jakarta in 1975―to buy a folder at the first floor of Cikini Immigration (things were deliciously hands-on in the good old days of the Order Baru)―I have been impressed by Jakarta’s glamour ladies of the realm, their grooming and their gait.

In those days, the wives of the Development Bosses flaunted helmet-head coifs, in the fashion of Darth Vader; they wore bright Gucci ‘golf weekend’ chemise, and carried weapons-grade black patent leather handbags. They all walked at a snail’s pace, in the manner of Javanese princesses, flailing ladies in-waiting who wore vaguely-Dutch daywear.

They had the unique ability to block any attempt at being overtaking from behind―in air bridges or on hotel corridors―by gently moving sideways: in fact, they seemed to be endowed with radar in their rear ends.

Rumour also had it that they all slept standing up, like Borgs, so as not to ruin their perfect coifs.

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Today’s fabulously independently wealthy, talented and beautiful golden girls are much more nimble and much more fun!

One group calls itself the Ibu-Ibu Gaya (or Glamour Girls) and is dedicated to steamy sarong-kebaya eveningwear and exotic dancing, in the style of the bossa nova brunettes who graced the Presidential Palace in the days of that great patron of parties, President Soekarno.

Last month, between trips to Darjeeling and Denpasar, I was invited to cover the Mangkunegaran Palace wedding of Soekarno’s granddaughter, Gusti Raden Ayu Agung Putri Suniwati, to a dashing crooner from Makassar, Sarwana Thamrin―a distant relative of the Raja Goa.

With my press pass and a handful of Hemaviton vitamin pills, I got to observe these Solo sirenes at close range.

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The following SMSes were sent from the Istana Mangkunegaran on 12 June 2008:

11 a.m. At the Akad Nikah Betrothal ceremony.

The Ibu-Ibu Gaya Group, resplendent in peppermint, occupies the central portion of the raised dais inside the Dalem Mangkunegaran―the Palace’s inner sanctum. The superbly proportioned Yani Arifin is at the Group’s epicentre.

Perfectly powdered, milky breasts and feathered fans flutter. Diamonds glitter. It seems that the Ibu-Ibu Gaya are always ‘central’ at any important or glamorous Javanese occasion. It was never decreed that they should be seminal, and pivotal―today, for example, ambassadors, and even government ministers, sit below, way below, with Warwick Purser―but there they have always sat. Chefs de Protocol are at a loss to explain their inevitable appearance in the these viceregal sections: beauty has its own rules, it seems.

Likewise no one can ever explain the membership rules of the Ibu-Ibu Gaya Group; but once one has attained membership―through either wealth, beauty, talent or the other thing―then membership is as precious as life itself.

1300 hrs : At Yani Arifin’s house in Central Solo

The Ladies are all now frying their perfectly-formed breasts at the town market.

A few minutes ago they stormed out of the dining room door―a phalanx of über-consumers―botoxed bottoms setting slowly in the noonday sun.

Baby Dolls and bowlegs.

Jackie O glasses.

Tireless retainers running after them―down the perfectly-rolled asphalt―with handphones, grease-busters and body-bras. (No boyfriends or bodyguards allowed in the inner circle―by threat of expulsion!)

Enzymes are secreted, discretely, in foreign ports.

Earlier, these indefatigable Ibu-Ibu of the realm had transformed themselves via a ten-course lunch: from Solo sirenes into hard-bargaining batik wenches, in the space of an hour.

I now sit alone in the excess air-conditioning, catching my breath.

2000 hrs : Back to Ibu Yani’s, to fetch the girls for the wedding reception

Preman, drivers and spent make-up artists line the driveway that leads to the glittering pavilion.

Inside, the deep bass beat of Barry White disco music drowns out the squeals of delight as, one by one, the divas of divine decadence emerge from their dressing rooms. Madam Miranda Gultom, in flattering mauve, preens, nervously, in the mirror: ”are these emeralds too small?“ she seems to be asking, as the more confident of the matrons roll up their million rupiah sleeves and dive into yet another twelve-course meal of delectable Solonese tit-bits.

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Arrangements for the car convoy to the Istana are intense: delicate forms slide into the waiting black SUV with feline grace.

We arrive in record time palace at the pavilion entrance. An exquisite Bedoyo Suryo Sumirat (bedil) Abdi Dalem Langen Projo Putri Mangkunegaran is in progress, bordered by a row of VIP guests and, from above, framed by a set of chandeliers weeping pink jali jasmine strips.

I am lifted an inch out of my selop priya by this scene of heart-wrenching beauty: the wail of the tembang bedoyo plus female chorus; the clouds of incense de l'Orient; the flutter of canary yellow selendang all make for a vision of paradise.

The course brown necks of the men from Makassar―all in bright Mandar sarong―strain to get an eyeful of Ibu Yani Arifin sitting front row centre, like Audrey Hepburn at a Givenchy show the bride and groom and family continue to look alert despite days of this, and nights of football and massage.

At the post-reception photo shoot in the princesses’ private apartments―in Solo, even the princes are princesses (one even screams. “Emily !!!” in a Tourette’s Syndrome way when introduced to any tall, light stranger)―the Ibu-Ibu Gaya have swamped the marble dais in the innermost sanctum santori and are posing in long line-ups―like svelte, sophisticated, regal Rockettes.

Even Megawati and her husband, Taufik Kemas, dressed in a stuning caramel ‘highland three piece’ are swept aside by this phalanx of the fashionable.

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Midnight : At a nasi liwet lesehan in Solo’s street-theatre district

The ladies are having their feet massaged as they sample the latest local delicacies.

“Local !” is really their battle cry : no-where else but Java could such a battalion of be-batik-ed beauties survive; they are defenders of the fancy frocks; champions of the chemise; Ladies that launch …..and Java would be a much quieter place without them.

As published on JakartaKini July 2008

Friday, 29 August 2008

One Hectare of Land Has Been Prepared For Amrozi et al.’s Funeral Ground

Taken from Bali Post, 26 August 2008
Translated by Putu Semiada

There has been no confirmation so far on when the execution of death sentence for the Bali bombers will be held. However, the Chairman of Islamic Reformist Movement (GARIS), H. Chep Hermawan has donated one hectare of land for their burial ground. “We have contacted their family regarding the donated land. Let alone we have known each other for a long time,” Says Chep, Monday (25/8/08).

He says that location of the land is at Kampung Bobojong, Bobojong Village, Mande district, Cianjur.

According to him, Amrozy et. Al. are mujahid, who dared to fight in order to defend Syariat Islam. Everytime he visit Nusa Kambangan, he always try to have opportunity to visit and talk to them.

On the other hand, the judge Abdul Hakim Ritonga from the Supreme Court says that the execution is just only about the time. “It will be done when the time comes,” he says. However, he rejects on the rumour that the Supreme Court purposely delay the execution. The Head of Supreme Court would like that the execution can be done before the Moslem fasting month.

Click image to enlarge

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

East Meets East

Amazing, amazing EAST MEETS EAST Nippo- Balinese (Butou-Gung Bagus) cross-cultural/cross-dressing at ISAKA, TEGALALANG TONIGHT!
More grey nomads in skimpy jersey tunics , yin-yang bling and hill tribe seniors than you could poke a stick at--the Laughing Yogi, Noelle, Lovely Kennie, Ananda Soprano, Philipo Narcicist etc etc.......

Sadly not one member--Balinese or otherwise-- from Ubud's significant Dance Community!

40 years following the time of the genius of butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata, there hasn’t been a performance that exudes its strength into a spectator’s heart. This is because the surface-oriented technique and style have become butoh’s top priorities. In such times, a dancer who faces his craft head-on with such passion as Ko Murabushi is a rarity.
In “quick silver”, Murabushi used techniques pioneered by Hijikata, yet mixed and molded it to ultimately make it his own. The essence of Butoh is to dive into field of dance that the West has closed its eyes to. I hope to continue to see Murabushi dive deeper into these fields and coax more excellent pieces of dance from them.
(Tatsuro Ishii, DANZA, Aug/Sept. Ed)
During a time when butoh has lost its sense of mystery and is rapidly turning into a form of mundane entertainment, Ko Murobushi goes against current trends with open confidence, in his latest solo performance, he exudes boundless energy form his silver-painted body.
Watching Murobushi constantly moving his body to avoid fixing himself in one pose was akin to watching mercury powder wave and roll its way all over the stage. With just his formidable physicality, Murobushi pierced the audience’s imagination.
(Hideki Sukenari, Yomiuri Newspaper, June 27, 2006)

Murobushi Ko Profile
Ko is one of the best known and acclaimed Butoh artist in the world and is recognized in Japan as a leading ingeritor of Hijikata’s original vision of Butoh. He studied with Hijikata in 1968, briefly ‘giving up’ dance to become a “Yamabushi” mountain monk, back into the society he founded the Butoh-Group DAIRAKUDAKAN together with Ushio Amagatsu, Akaji Maro and other. 1974 he created the Butoh-magazine ‘Hageshi Kietsu (Violent Season)” and founded a female Butoh-Company “ARIADONE” with Cardona Ikeda, and for which he did many choreographs. 2 years later he founded a similar only-male Butoh-group: SEBI.
With a co-operation of these two groups he brought the Butoh to Europe and makes Europeans to notice Butoh: LE DERNIER EDEN-PORTE DE L’AU-DE LA succeeded in Paris in 1978, and was followed by a big tour through whole Europe with ARIADONE in 1981/82. From 1988 Ko concentrated on duo-productions with Urara Kusanagi, and toured in the following years in Europe and South America.

On the one hand he continues to open his dance and the Butoh to the worldwide influences, and the other hand he tries to research his work much deeper into its Japanese roots. His solo production [Edge01], [Edge02] and group production [Edge03] invited by several international dance festival, ImPulsTanz Festival, Montpellier Dance Festival, London Butoh Network Festival, and so on. He has received numerous awards for residencies worldwide, including Mexico, India and New York. Ko is in great demand as a workshop teacher and an artistic director of the ImPulsTanz Festival in Vienna.
In 2003, he settled his unit Ko&Edge Co. with 3 young Japanese dancers, presented [Handsome Blue Sky] in ‘JADE2003 Hijikata Memorial’ in Japan, and caught frantic applause. In 2004, this unit Ko&Edge Co. present new series titled [Experimental Body] which is to search “edge” in a physical way. In 2005, Ko&Edge presented [Handsome Blue Sky] in US-Canada tour (5 venues). His latest performance as [Experimental Body] series was [MIMI] in 2007.
His choreographies as well as his solo performances continue to establish Ko Murobushi as one of the highest reputed representative of Butoh, and every moment Ko challenges to reach new possibility of Butoh.

Anak Agung Gde Bagus Madera Erawan
Borned in Peliatan Ubud, Bali 1950.
His father was musician and Legong dance teacher, and his mother was a dancer, so he was influenced by family in his childhood. His father established the Gong Kebyar group “Gunung Sari” which performed at foreign country since 1931. It was still Dutch colonial period when Gunung Sari was performed at Paris and Holland.
In 1971, participated the Australian Moomba Festival in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
Now he perform and teaching dance and music in Tirtha Sari and Genta Buwana Sari the foundation.

Performing at foreign country
1973 Performed in Asia Pacific countries and tour to Europe and the States.
1977 Performed in Asian Festival, Hong Kong
1981 Tour in New York, San Francisco and Mexico for Spoleto Festival
1985 Performed in Tsubuka EXPO Japan
1988-91Performed in Okinawa, Kawasaki, Tokyo, Nagoya and Gifu
1996 Performed at various cities in USA
1997 Performed in Tokyo
1998 Performed in France, Germany, Netherland, Belgium and Switzerland