Sumunar Gamelan and Dance Ensembles are dedicated to performing traditional and contemporary music and dance from Indonesia. The primary focus is on the traditions of central Java, but as the performing component of the Sumunar program, the ensembles carry out the organization’s mission: to promote an understanding of and appreciation for many forms of Indonesian music, dance, and culture through performance and education.
The Sumunar Gamelan Ensemble is directed by Joko Sutrisno; the Dance Ensemble is directed by Tri Sutrisno.
Members of the Sumunar performing ensembles share a desire to learn and communicate the music and dance of Java. Some of the performers are of Indonesian heritage, but the majority are not. The paths that led them to gamelan and Javanese dance vary widely: some discovered it quite by chance when happening upon a public performance, others had years of training in Western traditions before taking up gamelan or Javanese dance as a way of reinvigorating their artistic practice. All ensemble members participate in Sumunar’s community music and dance classes; a number of the performers have studied with Joko and Tri since 1996. Ensemble members have devoted years to learning these instrumental and dance techniques, some of which are very demanding and require a high level of skill.
Most of the current ensemble members participated in a two-week study and performance tour of Java in 2010. This tour included fourteen performances, including at the Ministry of Education, five colleges and universities, and on national radio. The culmination was our invited performance at the Jogjakarta Gamelan Festival, where we were met by an enthusiastic, cheering crowd and received standing ovations.
The Sumunar Ensembles perform regularly around the Twin Cities. Concerts feature traditional music and dance alongside contemporary works by Joko and Tri Sutrisno. Venues range from formal concert halls (Sundin, MacPhail) to free outdoor stages (Como Lakeside Pavilion, Lake Harriet Band Shell, Caponi Art Park). Our concerts feature a mix of instrumental pieces and dances performed to gamelan accompaniment. Keeping in mind that our audience usually includes people entirely new to Indonesian music and dance as well as those familiar with it, we aim for a high artistic standard while explaining—through program notes or remarks from the stage—aspects of the dance forms, musical structures, and how the work would function in a traditional setting. In addition to music and dance concerts, we also share other Javanese performing traditions, such as wayang kulit (shadow-puppet play) and klenengan, an informal instrumental house concert.
The Sumunar ensembles have a long history of collaboration with other arts organizations to create unique and memorable performances that blend different traditions. We have worked with local dance ensembles including Ragamala Music and Dance Theater, Katha Dance Theatre, and Ethnic Dance Theatre. Musical collaborations include work with the Bakken Trio, Ensemble Mezze, Pooja Goswami Pavan and A. Pavan, the East Metro Symphony Orchestra, and Bun Loeung. In these collaborations, we aspire to learn from other traditions, teach something of what we know, and create work that blends these different forms into something that sheds new light on older forms. These collaborations can be challenging, but we enjoy and are grateful for these opportunities to broaden our own musical and cultural perspectives.
Our most generative collaboration has been with the Green T Productions, a theater company that draws on Japanese movement and theater forms. We first collaborated on “Laughing Waters,” a Minneapolis Mosaic Arts commission in 2011 that combined gamelan music with kabuki and noh. In fall 2014, we collaborated on a major Indonesian work, Prince Rama’s Journey, an evening-length innovative setting of the Ramayana story with music, dance, and dialogue. In 2014 Sumunar was awarded a $13,000 Knight Foundation St. Paul Arts Challenge grant to produce a “Minnesota Mini-Wayang,” based on the traditional Indonesian shadow-puppet play but with an original Minnesota story, played out by puppets, live actors, and dancers to a gamelan accompaniment. This production debuted in September 2015.