Professor discusses Balinese cultural arts

By Olesya Minina


The national identity of a region can transform and be showcased in the performing arts, impacting citizens’ views of history and current events, said an assistant professor of music and scholar of Balinese and Indonesian cultures on Tuesday.

Bethany Collier demonstrated these unique concepts in a talk last Tuesday in the Willard Smith Library titled “Merchant, Clown or Princess? The Chinese in Contemporary Balinese Performance.” The talk was part of the Faculty Colloquium and sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Gender.

Collier has specifically studied Balinese and Indonesian music and dance. She is also fluent in both languages.

“Profound understanding of Balinese culture and customs is necessary, many of which contain Chinese characteristics, that until recently have been discriminated against. This signals a change in public culture towards acceptance and the integration of cultures,” Collier said.

The Indonesian government has recently taken a “pro diversity stance” beginning in the late 90s, which has allowed performance productions to take on a more “accepting, open representation of the dialogue of history and encourages the audience to acknowledge stereotypes and accept Chinese influences on Balinese culture,” Collier said.

Collier showed the complex history of the Chinese and their role in Indonesian culture, especially in Bali. The Chinese have been apparent in the culture for nearly seven centuries and until recently have been isolated, abused and discriminated against by the local governments and peoples.

This transformation in cultural identity is “stimulating and brings the complexities of history to current events,” said Martin Fromm, professor of East Asian studies.

It has also allowed Chinese influences to finally be displayed and even embraced openly in the theatre sector of Balinese culture, which includes world-famous productions. Collier focuses on three different productions, Bali Agung, Arja and Sendratari, that range from local theatre, dance and music performances to more famous and elaborate performances meant for tourists. All of these works display Chinese aspects in Balinese culture, which “manipulate language and movement to call for a realization of unity and diversity amongst differing cultures,” Collier said.

In many of these performances, the audience does not know what story or scene of a commonly known folktale the actors and actresses are portraying. They also contain stock characters rather than the real characters and unfold only as they are performed.

It is inspiring that this “vibrant cultural coexistence builds a new foundation for the peaceful coexistence of different people and ideas and can be displayed to both locals and foreigners through artistic expression,” Robert Jablonski ’14 said.

Many of the performances are now “blending cultural differences with dance, music and movement and creating a cultural bond rather than divide,” Collier said. This is radical transformation that is currently taking place in one of the “culture peaks” of the archipelago and is impacting national cultural exchange and identity in Indonesia and the surrounding regions.

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