Tonight at Yale University, the Council on Southeast Asia Studies hosted their annual Spring Festival on campus, at Luce Hall. The evening featured dinner and a reception, with cultural displays presented by several Yale student groups, including Kasama, the Filipino Society, MASA, the Malaysian and Singaporean Association, and ISFA@Yale, the International Silat Federation of America. Joe Errington, Chair of the Council on Southeast Asia Studies, welcomed everyone and introduced the performers, thanking especially Quang Van, Indriyo Sukmono, and Kristine Mooseker for organizing and presenting the Festival.
Students, faculty, and staff from around the University, and others from as far away as New Jersey, gathered for an evening of Balinese Music and Dance. The evenings performances were headlined by the Gamelan Dharma Swara from the Indonesian Consulate General in New York. This traditional Balinese Gamelan accompanied a series of Balinese Dancers, also from the Indonesian Consulate in New York. The Gamelan Dharma Swara and Balinese Dance Troupe are led by Teachers and Artistic Directors I Nyoman Saptanyana and Ida Ayu Ari Candrawati, with Chris Romero, Exective Director. The dance numbers included a pendet offering dance, a traditional form of the legong dance portraying the story of two brothers, as well as the baris warrior dance and the barong dance of the dragon.
In between dance numbers, Chris Romero led Question & Answer sessions with the audience, explaining in turns the significance of the traditional dress for the musicians and dancers, the narratives following the dances, and the musical style and instrumentation of the Balinese Gamelan itself.
Although the island of Bali is small compared to the neighboring Java and Sumatra to the West, the diversity of its culture is great, and the music and dance traditions are no different. There is a wide variety of Balinese Gamelan orchestras and types of dance on the island. Perhaps 30-40 different types of Bainese Gamelan ensembles exist, and in many cases even the pitch arrangements or tunings may vary from one village to the next. Instruments are tuned in pairs, creating a tremolo effect that softens the sound of the music. The scale itself is a pelog scale, made of seven notes with unequal intervals between them.
The Balinese instruments have some similarities to Javenese Gamelan instruments and to other types of Indonesian Gamelan orchestras. Many of the instruments are unique to Indonesia, however, and are not found in western music. The instruments often have scenes engraved on their faces that are taken from narratives, such as the epic Ramayana, which are also performed by the dancers.
The Balinese Gamelan music and the dance which it accompanies are closely choreographed, with the dancers using stepping and foot movements, as well as choreographed eye movements to portray the sound and feel of the music. Many of the dances are spiritual in nature, portraying epics and tales from the Hindu tradition. The elaborate costumes also have spiritual significance, from the sarongs to the headdresses. For instance, certain costumes mimic the attire of the temple guardians, and the gelungan headdress carries on its back the mouth of the garuda for protection. Dancers may also carry offerings with them as they perform.
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