Power and Humility in the Shadows
My Fulbright experience completely changed my life. I had been building nontraditional musical instruments as an undergraduate at the California Institute of the Arts. During my graduate years, traveling to Bali as a Fulbright scholar steered me in another direction entirely. I discovered that wayang was the perfect medium for me since it incorporates all the arts, and I love doing a million things at once
The time in Bali helped me focus and led me to realize my dream of becoming a selfemployed artist. I was already interested in Indonesian arts; CalArts has a great gamelan tradition, so I heard it daily. It drew me, captivated me, and as I became more involved, I saw the incredible craftsmanship. And I loved how they didn’t separate people from musicians and how they integrated the arts — theater needs live musical accompaniment.
I studied in Sukawati, Bali, for two years. They’re the best wayang accompanists. I studied music with the dearest man you could imagine and continued until his death in 2006. Now I study with his nephew. My wayang teacher is another nephew, so it’s all in the same, huge family, which is more complicated than families in the Mahabharata. In this village of famous dalang, I learned about humility. When I first arrived my wayang teacher was this shy, friendly, sweet man who taught at STSI, then several months later, I saw him perform — and suddenly this dazzling artist appeared. He had tasku, great spiritual power. I learned then that it’s far more important to allow tasku to enter at the proper time and to otherwise be humble.
My musical partner Cliff DeArment and I formed Bali & Beyond in 1990. Our mission remains to promote the music, theater, and culture of Bali. We’ve performed and taught across the United States — at colleges, festivals, museums, zoos — you name it. For 20 years, each summer we taught 60 high school students to play gamelan. Between that and the people who saw us play over the years, tens of thousands of people had the opportunity to hear gamelan music. And the reaction has changed over the years.
In the early 1990s, people had no idea what gamelan was; now lots of people do. When we perform wayang it’s in English and bahasa Kawi (old Javanese), and audiences often tell us how happy they are to understand the story. Tourists visit Indonesia and enjoy shadow plays, but often they don’t know exactly what’s happening.
Part of my goal was to learn traditional shadow play as completely as possible so I could “intelligently” create Western wayang. After 10 years of performing traditional wayang, in 1998 it finally happened: “Alice in the Shadows,” my psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll shadow play, was born. Other projects include shadow work for Disney Hollywood Pictures, Warner Brothers, and “Images of Singapore” on Sentosa Island. Most recently another dream of mine came true when I brought a group to Bali to study performing arts. We stayed in Sukawati Palace and my wayang teacher and his family taught us wayang, gamelan, and dance. I hope to make it an annual event.
I’m so grateful to have been a Fulbright scholar. In some ways, the experience never ended. I constantly surround myself with Bali — where I live, when I perform and teach, and especially in my dreams. I travel there as often as possible to continue learning music and stories and to perform in religious ceremonies. I stay in touch online with the “younger generation” and phone my music teacher every month. As an only child with elders who have all passed on, I have a much bigger family in Bali than I do in the United States. When I go to Sukawati, I feel like I’m going home.
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2019 @ 3:41 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 142– 144) published in 2012.
Translator: Sagita Adesywi and Piet Hendrardjo.
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