One of Indonesia’s leading contemporary dance groups, Nan Jombang, is visiting D.C. as part of the State Department’s new Center Stage exchange program, which welcomes ensembles from developing countries to boost cross-cultural understanding. Ahead of performances this weekend and Monday, Rachel Cooper, director for global performing arts at the Asia Society and an adviser for the initiative, discussed the troupe.
Is Nan Jombang contemporary in the Western sense?
We’re not talking about a Martha Graham version [of dance]. A vital contemporary dance culture has been part of Indonesia since the 1950s; it’s connected to the rest of the world but is its own thing.
Where does Ery Mefri [Nan Jombang’s founder/artistic director] get his ideas?
One key component is the martial art pencak, which is quite beautiful, and also randai, a theater form. But Ery Mefri is pushing the envelope in ways we here might not fully appreciate.
What’s the piece he’ll be showing this weekend, “Rantau Berbisik (Whisperings of Exile),” about?
In West Sumatra [where Nan Jombang is from], men leave their village to make their way in the world and later return. Sometimes people don’t come back, and the piece is about how important it is that they do return. Ery is really committed to his culture. He is not someone who left.