Nyoman Arjasa Wenten: Balinese Dancer and Gamelan Player Goes International

Nyoman Arjasa Wenten: Balinese Dancer and Gamelan Player Goes International

For more than 35 years, Nyoman Arjasa Wenten has been living in the United States of America because he wanted to bring Balinese art to the world. This Balinese figure says that Bali belongs to the world and this has allowed him to work steadily in the U.S. Actually, he had no particular desire to work

For more than 35 years, Nyoman Arjasa Wenten has been living in the United States of America because he wanted to bring Balinese art to the world. This Balinese figure says that Bali belongs to the world and this has allowed him to work steadily in the U.S.

Actually, he had no particular desire to work overseas, but life led home to this far away country.  As Wenten humbly says, he is just the son of His father was a wood carver and his grandfather was a puppeteer known as a Pekak Dalang Sading, who established a calonarang mystical drama at the Dalem Kediri Temple in Sading. Seeing that his grandson Wenten loved dancing and gamelan music since childhood, the puppeteer taught the youngster dance and music and introduced him to famous dance teachers.

One day Wenten’s grandfather took him to Dalem Kediri Temple to dance even though the child had not practiced. There he was dressed on the baris dance costumes and had his face painted with the traditional make-up. Remarkably, he gave a lively performance. As a teenager, Wenten continued studying gamelan at a gamelan music vocational high school (Kokar), located on Jalan Ratna, Denpasar.

He learned to dance from Beratha Armawa, Raka Bongkasa, Oka Sading, Nyoman Kakul, Raka Saba, Wayan Rendi, Agung Breset, I Gusti Nyoman Panji and some others, eventually leading him to roam the world bringing Balinese dance to countless audiences.

He was selected to be part of President Soekarno’s Asian art axis art mission, allowing him to dance in China, North Korea, Thailand, Cambodia and Japan as part of cultural exchanges to introduce Indonesia to the world. He became more aware of the arts of Indonesia and decided to further his studies at the Indonesia Dance Academy (ASTI), Jogjakarta.

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During his study at ASTI, Wenten taught Balinese dance overseas at CalArts, California and in San Francisco for 8 weeks. He also organized for a group of American students to perform and study in Bali. They lived in Ubud at the home of Walter Spies, a famous painter from Germany.

Wenten gave dance classes in Ubud with his father-in-law, a senior figure of gamelan music Mr. Cokro. His success in teaching dance in Ubud led him to be invited to go teach in America by Prof. Robert Brown a well-known lover of Indonesia. “I was again offered to teach when I was still studying in Jogjakarta. I was said to be ready to come and study again” he said. Wenten then received a scholarship to study and teach at CalArts, a school owned by Disneyland.

His popularity in America grew steadily with audiences thronging to see him perform. Well-known American figures were amongst these audiences. His classes were also very popular. In fact hundreds of students wanted to attend his Gamelan music class even thought the quota was only 27 students. Occasionally, he returned to Bali to take part in Balinese art events with his fellow classmates.

After completing his graduate studies, he returned to Indonesia. Former Governor of Bali, I.B Mantra suggested that Wenten work in Indonesia, but the popular Balinese artist was again called to teach in America, where he was given a scholarship to do doctoral studies at UCLA, Berkley, where he later became a professor.

Until now at the age of 72, Nyoman Arjasa Wenten is still actively teaching and engaged in creative arts in America. He and his wife Ninik have two children who are also talented in Balinese arts. Although neither of his sons are professional artists, they both occasionally teach dance and gamelan.

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Executive Producer of Beats of Paradise, Zane Thomas, became interested in Nyoman Wenten when he came across his work at the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia (KJRI) in America, where Wenten was playing gamelan. Director of Photography, Jeff Caroli, says that Wenten is a humble and caring man.(BTN/kmb)



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