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Balinese Gamelan Performance

On September 28, 2002, the Wilshire Ebell Theater reverberated with the rich tones of Balinese gamelan music, as a large audience enjoyed an evening of music and dance from the Çudamani ensemble of Bali.

By Ben Zimmer

The Center for Southeast Asian Studies was pleased to help sponsor the event, part of the 2002 World Festival of Sacred Music, a series of 55 events showcasing musical traditions from around the world. The Çudamani concert, held near the end of the 16-day festival, gave members of the Los Angeles and UCLA communities a fascinating glimpse into how the performing arts are interwoven into everyday ritual activity in Bali, a Hindu culture in the primarily Muslim country of Indonesia.

The Çudamani troupe was warmly introduced by Festival Director Judy Mitoma of UCLA’s Center for Intercultural Performance, who is herself an expert in Balinese dance and an active member of the CSEAS Faculty Advisory Committee. Prof. Mitoma also introduced the "Local Hero" for the event, Rev. Masao Kadani, minister of the Senshin Buddhist Temple and a strong supporter of Asian cultural arts in Los Angeles.

At the beginning of the concert the audience was immediately struck by the colorful array of gamelan instruments on stage, consisting of bronze gongs, xylophones, and other percussive instruments in meticulously decorated wooden frames. The troupe then slowly took the stage as female dancers carried sacred offerings in the style of rejang, traditional dancing performed at Bali’s Hindu temples. The reverential opening procession was followed by a performance much more raucous in character, a new composition in which members of the ensemble visually and aurally recreated the boisterous activity surrounding a Balinese cockfight.

The evening’s performance was highlighted by two unique collaborations. The first was a piece composed by Japanese performing artist Kenny Endo, an internationally renowned performer of taiko drumming. Çudamani’s director, I Dewa Putu Berata, arranged the composition for the gamelan ensemble, accompanied by Endo’s dynamic rhythms on the large taiko drum. The second collaboration featured Paul Humphreys, director of World Music Ensembles and assistant professor of music at Loyola Marymount University. The composition that Prof. Humphreys performed with Çudamani, which grew out of sessions with Dewa when he was an artist in residence at Loyal Marymount University, incorporated Ghanaian drumming in a fascinating counterpoint to Balinese rhythms.

In addition to these innovative compositions, the ensemble also delighted the audience with a sampling of more traditional pieces from the Balinese repertoire of music and dance. In a performance of the legong dance drama, the gamelan accompanied two female dancers who played out the story of a minister and his jealous wives. At the climax of the piece one of the legong dancers donned a grotesque mask, portraying the transformation of one of the wives into the evil spirit Rangda. Another audience favorite was played in the lively kebyar style, marked by dynamic transitions between soft interludes and impressively rapid movements by both musicians and dancers. The program closed in dramatic fashion with a Barong performance, perhaps the best known Balinese dance. The Barong, a fantastic mythical lion, was portrayed by two male dancers who formed the front and hind quarters of the animal, with the front dancer adeptly operating a colorful mask with his hands. After this grand finale, the Çudamani ensemble was greeted with a standing ovation and appreciative curtain calls.

CSEAS is proud to have helped bring the 31 members of Çudamani to Los Angeles for this special performance. The members of the ensemble grew up together playing music in the village of Pengosekan in central Bali, an area well known for its artistic community, and their cohesive performing style displayed an easy camaraderie and unity of spirit. Our thoughts remain with the members of Çudamani, who returned to Bali after performing in the Sacred World Concert at the Greek Theatre that closed the festival on Sept. 29. The terrible events of Oct. 12, when Bali was rocked by brutal bombings, remind us that Çudamani’s message of harmony remains more pertinent than ever. As the troupe leader wrote in the concert program, "In a world of peace and balance we are able to experience the bounty and beauty of the universe."

Testimonials:

The concert was incredible. What a talented group and how inspiring it is to know that this professional performing team grew out of village activities. I had seen a story on the village on the travel channel; so a thrill of recognition was added to the thrill of watching/hearing a beautiful show. My daughter (a recent graduate in anthropology) is inspired to return to grad. school as soon as she can get the funds. Her goal: to design a project to get herself to Bali and study dance! - Lou Williams

Those of you that were unable to take advantage of the Cudamani performance which was part of the 2002 World Festival of Sacred Music missed a very stimulating performance. The prolific use of vibrant color displayed by the stage props was the first indicator of the intensity of both visual and auditory stimuli we were about to receive. The richness of bright red combined with gold and contrasting black and white grabbed my eyes. When the performers moved to their stage positions their friendly smiles conveyed their pleasure in representing their far away homeland. The instruments sounded as I had anticipated but the instruments were nothing I had ever seen before. - Joyes Tweed

What a feast for the eyes! - Jason Ho

The music was so soothing. Very unusual percussion instruments. The coolness of
the weather enhanced the feel and memory of the sacred music of the evening. - Debbie Sheehan

The show was the best I've seen... truly. - Carola Dunham

Center for Southeast Asian Studies