Putu Evie Suyadnyani: Balinese Dance Instructor

Putu Evie Suyadnyani was born and brought up in Sindu village, Sanur. As a young girl exposed very early to dance at home where her aunt had set up a small dance school, Evie has been dancing and singing since she was 3 years old. In 1992, at the age of 10, Evie won first prize for Legong Condong at the island-wide Bali Arts Festival competition. In her professional life, she has worked as an assistant dance instructor, held jobs in retail businesses and the hospitality industry and owned her own translation and copy editing company called indOKiwi. Evie is now the co-founder and director of family-founded gamelan and dance center Mekar Bhuana.

What are your hobbies and interests?

I have mostly artistic interests such as dancing and singing but I also love many types of design from clothing to interior and exterior home design, as well as gardening and making cakes.

What is your involvement with Mekar Bhuana Centre?

I founded the dance component of Mekar Bhuana in 2004. Together with my husband, Vaughan Hatch, we manage everything ourselves from concept, program design and marketing, right through to archiving rare Balinese gamelan music, restoring extinct instruments and repertoires and teaching dance at Mekar Bhuana.

Where were you trained as a dancer?

I initially learnt with my aunty in my own home where she ran a dance school. Then I started studying under famous teachers such as the late Ni Reneng Jero Puspawati and I Gusti Agung Susilawati at Yayasan Tanjung Sari.

Do you specialize in a particular type of dance?

The classical legong dance. I’ve always been attracted to this particular genre since I was little. I’ve also learnt many kebyar dances such as Oleg, Manuk Rawa, Taruna Jaya, but I preferred the legong because it is refined yet energetic. I also studied and performed gambuh which is the root of legong.

What is the most challenging dance you perform?

The princess character in gambuh because I have to memorize the difficult classical Kawi language and speak this when dancing. I had to learn basic Kawi dialogue between characters just one week before our semara pagulingan and gambuh troupe was invited to perform at the Asian Games in China in 2010.

Have you taken part in international dance tours?

I’ve been on tour to Guangzhou, China, New Zealand and in Toronto, Canada where I spent three months last year as a world music artist in resident.

Do you also play any musical instruments?

Yes, gender wayang with my husband in our semara pagulingan orchestra and selonding with my family group, Sekaa Selonding Semeton. We are trying to save from extinction this profoundly beautiful court music which dates from the 14th–17th centuries.

How did you first become interested in teaching dance?

I was always my aunt’s assistant, so I’ve had teaching experience from a very young age. I also like meeting new people and sharing my knowledge.

Is it difficult nowadays to find qualified Balinese dance instructors?

If you mean professional instructors who are disciplined, possess good communication skills, practice effective teaching techniques and can speak English well, yes it’s very difficult.

What is your “typical” student?

Although there’s no “typical” student. I’ve taught students of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities – most of my students are female. So far my youngest student has been 3 and my oldest around 50. I have many students from other parts of Indonesia and from all over Asia. Asian students are on the whole quicker learners.

What is the most challenging Balinese dance for Westerners to learn?

The basic movements of both female and male dance are challenging even for the Balinese! When it comes to learning the details of the movements of all parts of the body from your head to your toes, there’s a lot to learn. Westerners often have problems positioning their bodies and moving their wrists. I’ve taught some foreign students who’ve had no background in dance or music, yet after just 8 lessons they were able to perform a basic welcome dance.

What are the most serious threats to the indigenous Balinese performing arts?

People – even the Balinese themselves – who perform Balinese dance in an inappropriate way such as mixing a sacred dance like Rangda with sexy dancers, which I’ve often seen in Kuta, or playing recorded music instead of a live gamelan orchestra which loses the natural spontaneous connection between the musicians and the dancers. Practices like this happen because of the desperation of the young dancers, even those who have graduated with formal hard-earned degrees in Balinese dance, but don’t know how to properly market their services in a professional manner.

How did this happen?

Most Balinese dance dramas were initially created in a spiritual or social service context. Performers were not paid in the professional sense. The reason that event organizers can get away with paying such low fees is that traditional dance troupes and gamelan orchestras are perceived by society as indigenous art forms that have originated in the villages and therefore must be cheap. The Balinese themselves believe this and project this perception on to the island’s tourism players.

What do you think can be done?

We must begin to think of the ngayah (community service) aspect of Balinese performing arts as just as much of a profession as a doctor, lawyer or accountant who charge a fee for their service and carry out important work for the community. Dancers and musicians are professionals just like anyone else and should be remunerated for their many years of difficult training and sacrifice.

What are your future plans?

I’m currently building my online teaching program. Since 2012, I’ve pioneered teaching Balinese dance remotely via Skype. I will really start to promote this dance program after our selonding performance in Korea in early August. In the near future, Mekar Bhuana intends to offer seminars and training for young people so that they can learn about Bali’s rare performing arts as well as professional teaching techniques, which hopefully will help empower the younger generation who love the island’s dance traditions.

Any parting words?

I’d like to change peoples’ perceptions about indigenous Balinese performing arts so that they understand that dance and music can be worthy and respected professions without having to fundamentally changing the art forms to suit the tourism industry.

How may you be contacted?

Email: info#balimusicanddance.com; FB: Mekar Bhuana; website: www.balimusicanddance.com. Mekar Bhuana also on Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+ and Trip Advisor.

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Copyright © 2014 Bill Dalton
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