Visiting professors I Nyoman Windha and I Gusti Agung Ayu Warsiki bring Balinese music and dance to BYU classrooms
Music professor Jeremy Grimshaw has long been fascinated by the Indonesian music tradition. Grimshaw — director of BYU’s Balinese percussion orchestra — specializes in the study of the Balinese musical genre of gamelan, and he works to bring guest experts in the style to the School of Music whenever possible. During the 2019-2020 school year, Grimshaw brought Indonesian culture to an even wider audience by inviting both a Balinese musician and a dancer to teach at BYU.
I Nyoman Winhda is an award-winning musician, renowned in Bali for his gamelan compositions and performance. Windha’s wife, I Gusti Agung Ayu Warsiki, is an accomplished performer in her own right, and a revered teacher of traditional Balinese dance. Last year, Grimshaw approached world dance professor Jeanette Geslison about co-hosting the famous couple as guest professors. She was equally delighted by the idea, and an original partnership was born.
Geslison, who serves as director of the International Folk Dance Ensemble, participated as a student in the Indonesian dance course taught by Warsiki.
“It was so intriguing for me to learn the traditional Balinese dance movement, which is quite different from the training we receive in the western dance traditions,” Geslison said. “This was the first time we have been able to offer Balinese dance in our department, and it has added another dimension to the world dance area.”
Geslison, who has extensive cultural dance expertise of her own, said the partnership was eye-opening and mind-expanding.
“It has stretched my ability to look at dance through a different aesthetic,” she said. “I believe that it is so important to be exposed to new dance cultures in order to develop a greater sensitivity for other traditions and a better understanding of one’s own.”
Adapting to such a new aesthetic is not always easy, and many students were caught off guard by how much concentration and effort it required of them.
“Almost all the students in the dance classes are surprised when they try it for the first time,” said Warsiki. “They say the movement looks simple, but it takes a lot of energy and makes their bodies ache.”
The partnership also brought about the opportunity for a unique interdisciplinary collaboration between the School of Music and the Department of Dance.
“One really fun part of this partnership has been bringing live music to the dance experience,” said world dance professor Amy Jex. “Music and dance are sometimes seen as separate entities here, not as a whole, like they are in Bali. In that form of cultural dance, the music, theater and dance are thought of as one, not separate arts.”
Students and faculty were able to experience this fusion firsthand as the Indonesian dance class performed alongside the BYU gamelan ensemble — Gamelan Bintang Wahyu — in Christmas Around the World and the Global Rhythm concert. Both dancers and musicians performed in traditional costumes — some of which took hours to put on.
“Getting to be ‘fully dressed’ and dance to the live music made it so much bigger than dancing in class,” said Jex. “It really was the crowning point of the course.”
Both music and dance students agreed that while it was difficult to adapt to the cultural differences and teaching styles that the professors brought to the classroom, the challenge was ultimately rewarding.
“It was good to have someone who really pushed us, because he understood the culture of the music so well,” said music minor Melanie Kimball. “Even though we were working really hard and we got frustrated at times, we knew that we were performing to the standard that an actual Balinese musician wanted. We got a lot better because of that.”
Kimball said the experience changed the way she views musical culture and has opened her eyes to new possibilities.
“Taking the class helped me really come to appreciate music of other cultures,” she said. “I try to listen to music from other countries now, not just Europe or America, and that’s opened my worldview a lot.”
While their residency this semester was cut short due to COVID-19, plans are already in the works to bring the guest artists back to BYU in the future.
“We hope the students keep practicing the dance and remembering the music they learned,” said Windha, “So that when we come back we can keep learning!”