maRia Bodmann

maRia Bodmann is a multitasking, multitalented, multidisciplinary artist. Her work, intricate and layered, weaves together cultural trails, East and West, with a visual vibrancy beyond myth. Her multidimensional role as performer, musician, artist, teacher, and business manager goes beyond cultural boundaries and ritual authenticity to her true artistic nature, which thrives on contrast: light and shadow, life and death.

Bodmann’s shadow theatre involves designing, carving, painting, scripting, storytelling, singing, manipulating shadows, choreographing, creating character voices, cueing musicians using foot mallets and gestures, and speaking multiple and sometimes archaic languages. She does it all. The energy it takes to perform is tremendous; traditional Balinese plays are epic, lasting more than two hours. Bodmann, a one-lung cancer survivor, forges artistic spirit: adapt and thrive.

Bodmann learned the art well. After spending two years in Bali, absorbing the immense amount of knowledge needed to become a dalang (shadow artist), she returned to California Institute of the Arts to debut her wayang (shadow play) as part of her master’s thesis. “Back then (late-eighties) I wanted to learn wayang and make it my own, so Western audiences could experience this vibrant art in the same context as Balinese audiences,” she says. Always, music and rhythm played a role; from the intricate patterns of gamelan, the melodies of suling, to developing her own organic experimental apparatus of metals, chimes, and drums. For one as devoted to her art as Bodmann, infusing her New York City upbringing with influences of Los Angeles, it took years before she felt familiar enough with the art form to break from tradition.

East met West when Alice in the Shadows debuted in the late 1990s, combining the spirits of Sir John Tenniel and Lewis Carroll with the late 1960s. Bodmann’s rock and roll epic radiates with psychedelic splendor and can be experienced in the California hills on warm summer nights, when shadows make their way onto the stretched linen screen. The bespectacled Bodmann retains traditional elements and offers delectable delights to the spirits of the ancestors and those in attendance.

Her work hasn’t stopped there. Bodmann attracts students of all ages and backgrounds to the mysteries of shadows and gamelan, both as an individual and with her company, Bali and Beyond. Hands-on, she inspires them to infuse their characters with the rhythms of life. Students are encouraged to bring their ideas to her shadow activities, as she believes that “every added detail brings more life to the art.”

Bodmann continues studies with her Balinese family in Sukawati, where she is a recognized dalang. She embodies, collects, and shares their energy - interpreting myths of old while living in the world of the present, with its harsh realities; collectively creating stories of healing and crisis; and celebrating life and death.

In her new work Bodmann engages survivors, drawing from her experience with cancer and exploring new creative territory. A modern sci-fi adventurer with an ancient storyteller’s twist, she connects the physical body that all humans inhabit with the artistic energy that enlivens the mind and spirit. With the support of the 2010 C.O.L.A. grant, another amazing transformation will be brought about by the only woman alive on this planet who can, maRia Bodmann.

— by Lisa Marie Pirro