Sunday 26 September 2010, 7-9pm

Adam Concert Room, NZSM, Victoria University Campus

This concert of Indonesian music and dance from West Sumatra featured percussion, dance and song in traditional music and dance and innovative new compositions created by leading Minangkabau composers and choreographers.

Elizar Koto, Asril Muchtar, Oktavianus Binahmad, Denny Maiyosta and company (senior West Sumatran musicians and dancers from Sumatra’s major arts institute, ISI Padang Pajang) visited Wellington for one week. As well as the performance above, they gave a workshop and concert at Te Papa on Saturday 25 September, and a dance and a music workshop at Victoria University of Wellington on Monday 27 September.

Tari Piring At Te Papa

Tari Piring performed at Te Papa

In a stimulating week-long programme in Wellington, the visiting Minangkabau troupe from Sumatra, Indonesia, gave performances at Te Papa, and at the Adam Concert Room, as well as a series of workshops at VUW. Their programme combined sung and instrumental music with dance and martial arts in a way that makes our separation of these art forms seem artificial.

Local ethnomusicologist Megan Collins, and her mentor Jack Body, have a long involvement with studies of the arts of Indonesia. The Embassy’s continuing support of these activities, particularly the gamelan orchestra, was again highlighted by their sponsoring of these visitors.

Performers from the cultural training centre, ISI Padangpanjang, enter the stage with a quiet confidence and easy discipline of movement that bodes well for what follows. Their stylized hand, arm, leg and foot positions have such smooth transitions that they seem easy, but “seem” would be the operative word. Clean, clear postures require an innate sense of balance, and the randai martial art sequences remind of the range of Asian traditional practices that give the body strength, speed and stamina.

A sense of whimsy of the comic items can make these seem adjacent to and not the opposite of each other, which saves us from wondering what is “old” and what is “new”, what is “serious” and what is humorous. It is the combination of traditional items, mostly excerpts from longer dance-dramas, together with contemporary compositions, that proves the hallmark of this troupe (Our local dance schools require students to identify in advance either “classical” or “contemporary” curriculum, an anachronism that does not in the end serve either the art or the artists well).

Many images linger from these highly skilled performers - but perhaps most memorable is the dance of sweeping and circling motion punctuated throughout with hands thwacking their pantaloon trousers to startlingly loud percussive effect. It would be our mistake to label these as “ethnic” performances. They combine music and dance, in traditional and contemporary forms.

Review by Jennifer Shennan

The events were co-ordinated by Megan Collins and were supported by the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia.