Jul 25, 2008

Bu Cristina Wistari Formaggia, 1945-2008, dancer and (accidental) polyglot

I am just shocked to learn of the passing of a very great artist, Cristina Wistari Formaggia, who suddenly passed away on the 19th, 62 years young. She was instrumental in preserving the 15th century dance drama form from Bali known as gambuh, which was threatened with extinction due to lack of patronage. This art form, which is considered to be ancestral to most of the dance forms found in Bali today, requires performers to be polyglots, i.e. fluent, in Balinese and Kawi, an extremely old literary language based on Old Javanese, which was spoken between the 9th and 13th centuries. (You can compare this to Modern Spoken vs. "Beowulf" English.) Bu Cristina was no exception - she spoke brilliant Balinese and Indonesian, knew her Kawi, and was fluent in English, French (I think), and Italian (her native language). I would not be surprised to learn if she had spoken other languages as well.

Here she is, dancing what most experts consider the most difficult role in gambuh, the refined hero Panji Inu Kertapati:

Panji Inu Kertapati

On the few occasions I had to talk with her, she was indeed determined and dedicated to fulfilling her goal, which was to preserve the gambuh form through rigorous documentation, transmission, and dissemination. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed.


No comments: