Our first Faculty Highlight: URIP SRI MAENY, Artist in Residence
I recently sat down with Artists–in-Residence Hari Krishnan and Urip Sri Maeny to discuss Maeny’s work in the world of dance. Maeny practices in the Javanese tradition – a style demanding grace and aplomb in order to excel. Her name means, “You can do anything,” and surely, her past proves that she has lived up to her namesake. Maeny has performed across the globe: in Indonesian palaces, an Australian governor’s residence, and an Oxford University library, to name but a few. The following provides a brief glimpse into her remarkable career.

Krishnan: Maeny can you tell me about your early childhood, where you were born?

Maeny: I was born in Pekalongan, in Central Java.

Krishnan: Were you born into an artistic family, of dancers or musicians?

Maeny: My great grandfather was a gamelan player. My mother always told me about visiting her grandfather while he played the gamelan.

Krishnan: How did you begin dancing?

Maeny: In the very beginning, my father asked me to join a small dance class.

I was 5 years old. I only went twice, because the daughter of the teacher was so mean. She asked me for candy whenever I went, and I never had any, so I stopped going!

Krishnan: What kind of dancing was this?

Maeny: Javanese dancing.

In fifth grade I started again

Krishnan: With a new teacher?

Maeny: Yes with a new teacher. I went to my sister’s dance teacher from the palace in Surakarta.

In the beginning, the music attracted me more than the dance. I would practice in the backyard, by myself, under the trees so nobody could see me.

When I was 15, I moved to Surakarta to go to the Kokar Conservatory, to study music and dance.

Krishnan: Tell me about your training at Kokar.

Maeny: I learned everything. At that time, no one majored in dance because there was no dance major. You learned music, language, puppetry, dance … everything.

There are many kinds of dance in Java. I was attached to Surakarta, and our style was slightly different from the style from the palace in Yogyakarta. But there was a teacher from Yogyakarta teaching at my school, so I learned their style.

Krishnan: Did you travel much with your contingent?

Maeny: Yes. I performed in Hong Kong, at the Mandarin Hotel. Then in Australia, from Sydney to Canberra. Then back to Indonesia. One week here, one week there, always going back and forth.

Krishnan: What was the group called?

Maeny: The Governor’s Group. A famous governor was looking for students who could dance the three types of Indonesian dance: Javanese, Balinese, and Sundanese.

Krishnan: And so you specialized in all three?

Maeny: Yes.

Krishnan: So you were always working in a community environment. Has that team playing influenced your teaching at Wesleyan?

Maeny: I think so. In school, it was always females teaching females, males teaching males. When I left Jakarta, I was asked to make teach a general’s son. He was to learn the style of male strong character. So I had to play a male character!

Krishnan: So you were easily adapting your art to different contexts?

Maeny: Yes.

Krishnan: When did you meet Sumarsam (Wesleyan Professor of Music)?

Maeny: I met him at school; he was a teacher at the conservatory in Surakarta.

Krishnan: When did you marry?

Maeny: We married in 1969.

Krishnan: Then what happened?

Maeny: After that, I went to teach at the President’s House in Jakarta. He was teaching in Surakarta.

At the President’s House, I taught during the day and performed for celebrations at night — Christmas, the New Year. We were always performing, even for children in hospitals.

In the 1970s, Sumarsam came back from Japan and I moved in with him. In 1971, I had a child at Surakarta, so I stopped working. Six months later, he went to Australia to work and teach gamelan at the embassy.

When I helped him move to Canberra, someone asked me to perform in the backyard of the governor’s house. That was in 1972.

Krishnan: From Australia you came to the US. Tell me about that.

Maeny: Sumarsam got a call from a student here named Martin Hatch, now a professor at Cornell University. He had been to Indonesia and seen Sumarsam perform at the Conservatory.

It was in 1972, and he said, “Please come to Wesleyan to teach.” I came too, and helped him teach the Gamelan, which was where the Schonberg studio is now. I spent two years over there helping Sumarsam. I would also dance with the Gamelan performances.

In 1974, they built World Music Hall, and we moved there.

Krishnan: Then you began teaching dancing?

Maeny: I was also teaching dance while helping Sumarsam, but I wasn’t in the Dance department yet. So I invited some of the dance teachers, like Susan Lourie, to dinner. This was around 1984.

I said we should have the students perform at the end of the semester to make things more exciting. They said, “Ok,” and this become the Worlds of Dance Concert.

The first concert was in World Music Hall. It was packed!

Krishnan: When did you movie into the Dance department?

Maeny: Around late 1980s I entered Dance department.

Krishnan: Would you say, Maeny, in terms of your dance training, you were one of the few people trained in this dance tradition?

Maeny: Yes. Especially for palace performances of a special dance, the Bedoyo, which is performed every year. It’s an all female court dance, for nine dancers.

Krishnan: What’s special about this dance?

Maeny: It is the traditional narrative of the king. Three of us were included, who lived around the palace.

Krishnan: It’s a very rare opportunity, no? You were one of the few people outside the court family, a non-hereditary dancer, who performed the Bedoyo.

Maeny: Yes

Krishnan: Do you teach the Bedoyo at Wesleyan?

Maeny: Oh no, it’s a very sacred dance, performed only once a year in the palace.

Krishnan: What are some challenges in teaching Javanese dance?

Maeny: Javanese dance is about a peaceful center, and listening to what I have to say. No chewing gum, or getting mad when I adjust you — I have to do that. The students who don’t want me to fix their errors, they don’t do well.

I always say, “Try, calm down, and listen.”

Krishnan: I need to ask you a very important question? Tell me about your name

Maeny: It’s Javanese. Urip means Life. Sri means a god of rice. Maeny means you can do anything.

Be sure to attend the Fall Faculty Dance Concert on October 21 and 22. Maeny and Shoko Yamamuro will perform a duet in the lineup.

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