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Indonesian Culture Night to spotlight LGBTQ+ experience through Balinese dance

Four dancers motion with arms outward in a courtyard. First-year biochemistry student and dance coordinator Cara Susilo said she aimed to merge American and Balinese dance styles.
(Courtesy of Dylan Djoenadi)

“Indonesian Culture Night: Take a Breath”

Ackerman Grand Ballroom

May 10

6:30 p.m.

By Natalie Glawe

May 9, 2023 10:13 p.m.

The Association of Indonesian Americans is set to unveil an authentic encapsulation of the community’s culture Wednesday.

The second annual Indonesian Culture Night, titled “Take a Breath,” seeks to bring light to the distinctive experiences of Indonesian Americans on Wednesday night in the Ackerman Union Grand Ballroom, said director of ICN and third-year Asian American studies and public affairs student Sonia Liu. The performance will rely on the abilities of musicians, actors and dancers to propel the story of protagonist Ceci as she navigates her queer identity and searches for an understanding of community.

“The story this year is highlighting the queer LGBTQ+ experience, which is something familiar to our community as a whole,” Liu said. “(We’re) really playing on this theme of silence as well as coming out and being able to express your identity under the caveat of family responsibilities and expectations.”

Liu said the team made the deliberate decision to progressively mix traditional aspects of Balinese dance to reveal a gradual evolution of Ceci’s mindset. She added that the piece will incorporate an element of drama that is a constant across any human culture and that the audience will be able to follow the narrative.

[Related: Taiwanese Culture Night to celebrate culture, explore identity through art]

First-year bioengineering student and ICN dance coordinator Cara Susilo said she found it challenging to represent every angle of Indonesia’s culture – which is made up of more than 17,000 islands – through her choreography. Susilo incorporated many types of traditional Balinese dance, which she said is a very specific ethnic style in comparison to the entirety of Indonesia.

Susilo said she feels fortunate to have grown up learning the traditional dance style firsthand from Balinese teachers. While she takes pride in her ability to incorporate an authentic aspect of Indonesian culture through her background in Balinese dance, Susilo said she simultaneously makes an effort to maintain contemporary undertones to blend and represent the true Indonesian American experience.

“I’ve choreographed a new dance that is more of a mix between contemporary flavors and Balinese flavors,” Susilo said. “It’s an Indonesian American story. The goal was to create a dance that could do the same thing, as in putting Indonesian and American flavors together, and then share that experience.”

The ICN dance team, previously titled the Trad, has been renamed “AIA Penari,” which translates to “AIA Dancers” in Indonesian. While Susilo said other cultural organizations have long referred to their dance team as a Trad, otherwise known as a traditional dance team, she said the group decided to shift from the more conventional name to something culturally revelant.

Susilo said her involvement in ICN has presented her with an incredible opportunity to connect with Indonesian culture while simultaneously being a part of a theater production. However, she said she did not aim to take on a role as critical as the dance coordinator, and that it rather fell into place as the team discovered her affinity for and background in traditional Balinese dance.

[Related: ‘Noise of Silence’ seeks to amplify voices, experiences of Indonesian Americans]

Similarly to Susilo, second-year statistics student Humairah Djafar said her role in ICN as the main character happened rather coincidentally. She said she was encouraged by her peers to apply for the drama cast. Djafar added that she is honored to portray important themes of family relationships, imposter syndrome and the LGBTQ+ experience as it all relates to the Indonesian American experience.

“I watched ICN last year, and I wasn’t involved in it. But I was really inspired by the story,” Djafar said. “They (the team) seemed really motivated. They really expressed the story and captured people’s hearts. I was like, ‘Wow, I really hope to be involved in ICN next year.’”

Djafar said the theatrical performance will often take on a serious tone as it navigates complex issues of identity and dense familial relationships. She said the production will include elements of comic relief, and she looks forward to bringing joy to the audience while simultaneously uplifting the Indonesian experience.

“I (didn’t) know if I (had) the courage to do that (try out),” Djafar said. “But I ended up doing it, and I am glad with where I’m at now.”

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Natalie Glawe
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