Balinese Gamelan Company Comes to Swarthmore

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

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gamelan2.jpgBy Rio Akasaka

On Friday night, Çudamani, a gamelan company from Bali, Indonesia, performed in Swarthmore’s Lang Concert Hall. A gamelan is a traditional Indonesian ensemble that includes metallophones, gong chimes, drums, and bamboo flutes. Çudamani’s members all live in the Balinese village of Pengosekan, and they participate in the company as volunteers. According to the program, Çudamani’s members “work to achieve a balance of being active creative artists while also preserving ancient and rare forms of Balinese music and dance.” The company was spending several days in the Philadelphia area in conjunction with the Painted Bride Art Center.

The gamelan musicians, all men, wore batik sarongs and sat behind instruments ornately patterned in red and gold. Emiko Saraswati Susilo introduced the program and briefly explained the history behind each piece. The gamelan is known for its metallic chiming sound; in their performance, Çudamani demonstrated the gamelan’s versatility through a wide range of songs and dances.

Legong Lasem featured two female dancers in golden costumes and flowered headdresses whose perfect synchronization mesmerized the audience. Susilo explained that this dance originated not in their own village of Pengosekan, but in a nearby village known for its “distinct style.” By contrast, Baris, “one of the core pieces of the male repertoire,” featured a male dancer dressed as a warrior who scuttled across the stage to the accompaniment of dramatic bursts of ringing sound. Distinctive gestures common to all the dances included bent-back fingers and wide, darting eyes.

gamelan.jpgBy Rio Akasaka

For Tajen, a playful piece “inspired by cockfighting,” the musicians arranged their instruments in a semicircle and acted out the scene as they played. The percussion was fast-paced and harsh at times, and the musicians used call-and-response motifs, as well as shouting and hand gestures, to recreate the excitement of the fight and the betting that accompanies it. “That piece doesn’t need too much explanation,” saidd Susilo. The final dance, Barong, featured I Made Mahardika, whom Susilo described as “one of the finest barong dancers in Bali,” and Dewa Gde Guna Arta. Masks such as that of the barong, a mythological creature, are “believed to have protective powers.” The dancers, with bells on their ankles, donned the barong costume and instantly brought it to life. The animal’s body flashed and quivered and the bearded mask, with prominent eyeballs and sharp canines, appeared to chatter its teeth. The barong dance provided a spectacular finale to the concert.

2 thoughts on “Balinese Gamelan Company Comes to Swarthmore

  • November 6, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    I thought it was a great performance. I know I saw several people filming the event – does anyone know where those copies went or if we could get access to them?

  • November 6, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    The Gazette has some footage from the event, and we’ll be putting it online shortly.


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