Tirtagangga Water Palace Art Event
Special Correspondence to Dance Magazine
East Bali, Indonesia
September 20-22, 2002
by Peter Rockford Espiritu
The 3rd Annual Tirtagangga Water Palace Art Event was held on the most auspicious moon of the Balinese calendar. It also happened to coincide with the lunar equinox. Producer and Director Dr. Daniel Susott together with Host, Emerald D.H. Starr were the most gracious and welcoming hosts, making performers and guests alike feel at home and ready to experience the magic of Bali. Dr. Susott personally invited an impressive mixture of international dancers and performers, master teachers, artists, and musicians, while Starr made appear effortless the task of overseeing the capable staff, vip accomodations, and particulars. The two made an impressive team, which is the reason for the success of this festival.
Master Legong class led by Dr. Bulantrisna Djentantik, granddaughter of the king who built the Tirtagangga Water Palace
If you are expecting a high gloss, multi-media, Jacobs Pillow, American Dance Festival, or Hong Kong International Dance Festival, production to attend, this grassroots, homespun arts event held in the water palace of East Bali is too off-the-beaten-path for you. But if you are looking for a pure exchange of culture sharing, created with the focus of bringing international art, dance, music, and peoples together in a venue that incorporates the input of all contributing and attending, this fledgling infant of an arts happening is right down your alley. The fact that the event takes place outdoors in exotic Bali doesn't hurt either.
The festivities included a book signing and lecture by Dr. A.A.M. Djelantik, son of the last Raja (King) of Karangasem. The focus was on his book, The Birthmark: Memoirs of a Balinese Prince. To even have the presence of this great man, long a patron of the arts, was an honor indeed. His father built 3 Water Palaces in East Bali., this last one in 1948. It was damaged by the volcanic eruptions of Mount Gunung Agung in 1963 and the subsequent earthquakes. It has now been under reconstruction for the last two years.
The art of traditional Northern Thailand dance was presented by master Vithi Phanichphant from the University of Chiang Mai who brought several dancers and musicians for his sharing. The fingernail dance was very popular with the young and elderly alike. Even seasoned dancers of different genre seemed challenged and entertained to be exposed to new forms of movement.
Dr. Bulantrisna performing the Legong Dance
Other tidbits included the showing of a fabulous collection of traditional and rare costume for stage and temple ceremonies from the island of Bali accompanied by a full Gamelan orchestra. This collection belongs to Ambassador Agung Oka (another son of the late King) and his wife Agung Rietje Djelantik, who have presented simular events at their diplomatic postings around the world. Rich and opulent with textiles of the most delicately intricate fabric worn so luxuriously made everyone attending admire the Indonesian artistry and fashion. Costumes from ceremonies such as weddings and "tooth fillings" made this event a true feast for the eyes. I couldn't help but wonder if the fashion houses of Paris and Milan will one day be inspired. This elegant fashion show was expertly presented by Agung Cok Dewi Djelantik, wife of Agung Bagus Djelantik, the Ambassador's son and an architect who is managing the restoration of the Tirtagangga Water Palace.
The first evening of the Art Event featured the music of rainforest activist, song writer, and folk singer John Seed from Australia. The pre-show music was provided by Sol-Kin with musicians Bodi Seed and wife Aprile Dunlop. Their music was entracingly reflective like a mirror that magically revealed the mysteries of the healing waters of Tirtagangga. The evening appropriately ended with the local award winning "Genjek" group of Tirtagangga's men who were gloriously bare-chested in traditional sarong, accompanied by their own gamelan. They proceded to drink "tuak" (palm wine) and sing traditional songs that would start off melodic in a sort of call and response set, and eventually evolve into the most intricately woven tapestry of staccatto vocals juxtapositioned by the Gamelan. Then, one by one, the men would stand up to dance and venture into the audience to urge the honored or "chosen one" to dance with him. This cultural inteaction ran the gamut of comedy, to inspired multi-cultural interaction, to down right raunch. There was no barriers or editing in this live, "no holds barred" offering. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful evening. A stand-out was Eunice De Mello vocal coach to Hawai`i's elite and former head of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. Her unabashed "booty dance" really "rocked the house"! To top it all off, the Thai group brought large hot air balloons (ancient Loy Kam) that when dispatched floated into the cosmos to the delite of all who who lucky enough to experience this glorious night. The stage was set and there was much more to come.
The afternoon of the equinox featured the amazing traditional Balinese music and dance of the Karangasem reginal palace gamelan and dancers, 3 generations of performers. Sweet gamelan music filled the air and vibrant costumes matched by the most incredible dancing headed by the Princess-Dr. Trisna Djelantik and her company of dancers executed a myrid of intricate movements that still brings chills to my spine. Culturally stimulating and diverse in their musical and dance offerings, the company was inspirational and a treasure to the Balinese and Indonesian peoples. The Princess herself, accompanied by 2 other mature dancers, performed the exquisite "Legong Kraton" dances which are so representative of the best of Balinese dance. A young male dancer presented his "kebyar duduk" for which he has won awards; this dance was created by the legendary Balinese dancer Mario in the 1930's, and has the dancer performing "seated" at the level of the musicians.
The second night featured a mix of Traditional and Modern Hawaiian and Thai Dance, Chant, and Music. Performers included Peter Rockford Espiritu, Director of Tau Dance Theater from Honolulu, who danced his signature "Ku`u Home", a solo choreographed by the late Earnest T. Morgan originally from Hawai`i who was an accomplished dancer and choreographer in his own right and was a former dancer with Paul Taylor Dance Company(NYC) in the 70's. Other highlights included Dr. Susott's haunting rendition of "Iesu me ke Kanaka Waiwai" accompanied by Espiritu on ukulele and Takamine-Holt who danced a soul felt hula. Vithi Phanichphant and and his dancers and musicians from Chiang Mai together with Lauren Po`ai Galindo from Kaua`i Hawai`i, made this sharing a most memorable inter-cultural presentation. The Thai performers presented dances from Burma and Laos offering a wide spectrum of dance from the region. To see traditional artistry intersperced with modern Hawaiian and Thai music and dance was groung breaking and a delight to experience.
The last evening featured the female equivalent to the "Genjek". The traditional name is "Joged Bumbung". The dancers were elaborately dressed in gold fabric and their female coyness mixed with choreographed movement evolved, as with the genjek, into seaching the audience for an honored "chosen one". The object here is to find a way to physically touch the dancer, the problem is that she is armed with a fan that she skillfully uses as a physical advancement deterant. The music would rise and fall and reflect the movement of both parties creating a sureal battle of music and dance. Some locals who were familiar with the ceremony of dance protocol would entice and trick the dancers and eventually enact a ritualistic beating. The dancer would stay in a stagnant submissive pose on the ground and the crowd would revel in the cunning of the triumphant aggressor. Throughout the evening, the dancers strategically brought up all participating artists and masters from abroad to dance with them. The effect was an awe inspiring melding of the multi-cultural which transcended and broke all artistic barriers. This cultural practice of Joged Bumbung seemed to be a favorite of the locals and foreigners alike which bonded everyone into a multi-cultural village of world cultures.
As the last of the Thai hot-air balloons floated into the constellations, my heart sank at the thought of returning to the hectic pace of Honolulu, compared to the Water Palace and the surrounding rice patty fields that have since ingrained their beauty forever in the depths of my heart and soul. Bali is truely a magical and spiritual place and Dr. Daniel Susott and Emerald D.H. Starr are my heroes for using their personal resources to bring people, art, and cultures together in the hope for intercultural understanding and artistic sharing. This dancer/choreographer/director is saving his pennies to make sure that he will be there to experience and contribute to the next cultural interaction. See you in East Bali next year! Salamat tinggal...