Monday, February 16, 2009

Pau Hana in Yogyakarta

Right before departing for Solo on 13 February, Aviva, Hannah and I saw the first part of a Pau Hana - a sharing of workshop materials by students from SMKI and nearby SMP in Bantul.

Four three-week workshop for children roughly aged 13-16 on taiko drumming, bharatanatyam dance, Hawaiian dance and drum band were faciliated by 4 American artists under the auspices of Judy Mitoma' centre for intercultural arts at UCLA. Funding was provided by the American state department - a cultural attache from the US was present and spoke briefly before the presentation.

The overall mood was joyous, even festive. Pau Hana is a Hawaiian term imported to Yogya via LA. The children wore brightly coloured t-shirts with a picture of Obama (who was of course conceived in Hawaii) surrounded by a mega mendung motif. They seemed comfortable performing in public - though we arrived early there seemed to be little in the way of stage nerves.

The event was attended by many of the big names in Yogya performance. We recognised the head of the Ndalem Pujokusuman dance foundation, Didik Nini Thowok and Miroto. There was also a delegation from ISI Yogya etc. Before the show, we spoke briefly with Jeannie Park (who now heads the Padepokan Seni, Bagong's old dance school), Joan Suyenaga, Judy Mitoma and Garret Kam -- who has been living in Bali for the last 15 years or so and was providing an 'outsider eye' to Judy on this occasion.

The event was simply structured. A group of 30 or so kids played 2 pieces for taiko drums along with Shoji Kameda. All but two of the drums were locally manufactured from used tires with sticky tape heads - two were imported from California and were made from recycled wine vats.

Then there was a demonstration of bharatanatyam - various stretching exercises, children demonstrating various asta (hand positions that convey semantic meaning) and a dance. The only slightly jarring note here was the use of black leotards under the dance costumes and the fact that the boys did not expose their chests either. Another sign of encroaching Islamism, and a reminder of how much has changed since Indian dance was first displayed by Yogya school kids by Goesti Noeroel and her classmates back in the 1930s (see the KITLV website for some lovely pictures of this!).

Sadly we had to miss the Hawaiian dance and drum band.

This was a very endearing display of American multicultural in action. While the head of SMKI, in his opening address, misidentified the workshop facilitators as being from Japan, India etc rather than Japanese-American etc the intention was clearly to demonstrate the power of arts to cross cultures. One of the opening talks expressed the hope that the children would take away skills with them. (One fellow spectator commented that perhaps the taiko drumming will influence bedug playing in mosques in the future.) But more than that they also took in a way of delivering the other's arts in an alien context, and a new appreciation of the diversity of America today.

This event will be followed up by a residency of seven Yogya artists at UCLA later this year - who will be performing and auditing classes and courses to further implement this sort of workshop-based, hands-on practical teaching.

I find it a relief to see such straight-forward cultural exchange going on - without having to offer excuses or make empty gestures to current 'strategic' interests.

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