Interview with Dr. Gugum Gumbira

interview1Jaipongan is a modern choreographed dance form growing out of traditional Sundanese culture. It was created by a single individual and has a philosophical underpinning. It was created in a historic moment in response to a specific situation. The creator of jaipongan is Dr. Gugum Gumbira Tiransondjaja. He combined ketuk tilu, the folk drumming and dance style of West Java, with silat movements and traditional accompanying music, and added his own special spark. Dr. Gumbrira spoke to Harsanari on November 30, 2011 at his home and studio in Bandung. In response to our question, What would you like us to know about jaipongan, he gave these thoughts:

Jaipongan is the essence of West Java—it is the distillation of the movement, the singing, the music and the cultural spirit of the West Java people. Jaipongan is not just music. Jaipongan is not just dance. Jaipongan is not even music and dance together, but a synthesis of music and dance infused with a unique feeling.

When I created jaipongan, I wanted to elevate West Java culture—people in the rest of Indonesia and even in West Java were losing an awareness of traditional West Java culture—under the dominance of the cultures of Central Java and Bali. I wanted to preserve the culture, to make people in West Java aware of their own culture, and people in the rest of Indonesia and the world know about West Java culture.

interview2Ketuk tilu is the foundation of jaipongan. It is simply dance—unchoreographed, improvised movement to music. As an ethnic form, it is unchanging. But the form, along with the world that supported it, is dying out—there are very few places in West Java where ketuk tilu is practiced anymore.

Jaipongan, on the other hand, is composed music and choreographed movement—it is a modern dance form, but strongly influenced by tradition. What worries me is that as ketuk tilu dies out, new composers/choreographers will assume jaipongan is an ethnic dance form, not a modern dance form using traditional rhythms and movements—they will misunderstand jaipongan and think of it as an ethnic dance form itself.

My walk is in the rhythm of jaipongan—when I stop it is also in the rhythm of jaipongan. Life is not static; dance and music are not static either. Like life, jaipongan is ever-evolving and changing—ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a different response to your question.

Thoughts on dance: If you are a dancer, then dance is your life; you have to keep doing it, it is good for the body and the mind, it keeps it all active. I admire Martha Graham and also Michael Jackson—the first for her creativity and new ways of movement; the second for the way his singing, dancing and music were inseparable.