Between the years 1957 and 1960, a young American girl named Kay came to live in Jakarta. Her father, Dr. Bruce Glassburner, from the University of California at Berkeley, was a visiting professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Indonesia. Ten years later, she returned to Indonesia and married a young man from Bali named Ikranagara.
Ikra, as he is called, was born in West Loloan, Bali, in 1943, the eldest of 10 siblings. He originally studied at the Faculty of Medicine at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, but he was more drawn to the world of theater, both as a director and a stage and movie actor.
Ikra resided in America on three different occasions as a Fulbrighter. “The first time was in 1978, when I was invited to observe theater and stop at American universities on the west and east coasts of America as a visiting artist. I also stopped at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, where, at the East-West Center, I saw the magnificent mural created by Affandi, the Indonesian master painter, at Jefferson Hall. It describes a dialogue between Mahatma Gandhi, Confucius, and Semar as Javanese puppet characters.
“From Hawaii, I went to Los Angeles to study film making, but not for long. I spent more of my time in New York, because I was more interested in contemporary theater – Off Broadway. I brought the mask dance to New York University (NYU),” he said. “Coincidentally, Richard, my host, liked to use masks to tell stories to children. One was called The Red Hat.”
Ikra danced the pajegan, a traditional Balinese mask dance. A pajegan dancer must be able to perform as a puppet master using different voices to play multiple characters at once. “But I did not follow the original pattern of the dance. I used it to create a new art of mask dancing and told my own stories.”
In 1989, Ikra received another Fulbright scholarship. “Previously I had been invited as a visiting artist, but this time I was a Fulbright Asian-Scholar-in-Residence at Ohio State University (OSU). There I had the opportunity to teach, give workshops, and put on performances with post-graduate students.”
The experience gave Ikra an opportunity to learn how to think systematically and structurally, “although the arts should not be too scientific,” he said, “for that would make them too dry.” During his two years in Ohio, Ikra performed three tasks. “First, I taught the history of Indonesian theater from the realist theater to the latest developments. Second, I gave one semester of workshops around acting exercises from Pranayama Number 9. This was a new interpretation, since traditionally Pranayama consists of eight sections. Third, I presented a dramatic play called Zaman Kalong, translated as The Era of Bats.”
Before and after receiving Fulbright scholarships, Ikra visited many American universities at his own expense, traveling to campuses in Michigan, Ohio, California, and Oregon. Ikra also served as a panelist to recommend candidates for Fulbright scholarships and participants in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, famous among writers in Indonesia.
“Indonesia and the United States need to exchange more artists,” he said. When U.S. artists are here, it would be good if they give lots of training sessions and workshops, as I did over there. It would also be good for them to spend time visiting small towns.”
Every time he returns from America, Ikra always comes home with books. “It is very good for Indonesian artists to do this. We must build libraries and cultivate our reading habits,” he said. At his home in Tebet, East Jakarta, Ikra has a collections of theater books and Nobel Prize-winning literature that is available to anyone interested in reading them.
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2019 @ 3:14 pm
This article appears from the book of Across the Archipelago, from Sea to Shining Sea Commemorating the 60/20 Anniversary of Fulbright and AMINEF (Page 119– 121) published in 2012.
Translator: Sagita Adesywi and Piet Hendrardjo.
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