Center Stage, an unprecedented program in international cultural arts run by the US Department of State, is bringing cultural dance and music groups from around the world to tour the US in 2012. Among the groups is Nan Jombang, a modern dance group from Padang, West Sumatra, which incorporates traditional movements and themes from their native Minangkabau culture. The group will tour the US in September and October, performing and making stops in Washington D.C., Providence, New York and LA. The tours of Nan Jombang and several other international groups are being co-sponsored by the New England Foundation for the Arts, the Asian Cultural Council, and several other organizations. Nan Jombang’s performances in New York will be hosted by the Asia Society, New York’s premier educational institution founded by John D. Rockefeller and “dedicated to furthering the understanding of the countries and cultures of Asia.” The Asia Society has several direct connections with the performing arts of Indonesia; their Director of Performing Arts Programs, Rachel Cooper, is the co-founder of Balinese Music and Dance Group Gamelan Sekar Jaya, based in San Francisco.
Nan Jombang was founded by Ery Mefri of West Sumatra, the son of Jamin Manti Jo Sutan, himself a well-known traditional dance and self defense instructor. One of their featured works Rantau Berbisik (Whisperings of Exile) ”is inspired by a long-standing custom of this matrilineal society, where inheritance accrues to daughters. Sons are expected to leave home and earn the means necessary to support a wife and children before settling down. Often they open a Minangkabau food shop in other parts of Indonesia or abroad. For many Sumatrans today, success is bittersweet because they do not return. Mefri’s dance is set in one of these shops. The work’s vocabulary draws on the Randai with movements based on pencak silat (a self-defense art), a live soundscape created by chants, claps and body percussion of the performers, and Tari Piring (Plate Dance) which originated as part of the paddy harvest party and tests a performer’s adroitness and skill.” Ery Mefri has profiles posted on the Goethe Institute, the Arts Network Asia, and Gogel Sonay’s blog.