Gamelan group returns to Lawrence

Çudamani, a Gamelan ensemble from Bali, Indonesia, paid Lawrence their first visit in seven years this Monday, Sept. 6. Gamelan is a unique form of orchestra comprised largely of percussion instruments, such as gongs (bonang) and xylophones (gambang kayu). Çudamani combines the orchestral music with theatrical performance and dance. 

The Stansbury Theater stage was decorated with brightly colored tapestries and totems.  There were six metallophones and a gong already set up before their players, all men, entered the stage and the performance began. The introductory piece had an almost mysterious feeling to it, as the musicians harmonized and synchronized on suspended metal plates, each note ringing out somewhat eerily. The players moved their arms strategically while playing, lifting in a swooping motion. The metallophones seemed sensitive, their sound either very quiet or very loud depending on the force with which they were hit. The piece, entitled “Rangrang,” is meant to refer to “that which is intertwined or knit together, just as we are interwoven with one another and the universe around us,” as the program explained. 

They played one more piece — this one involving Baris Pengider, an ancient form of warrior dance — before introducing associate director Emiko Saraswati Susilo. Susilo entered the stage to introduce the group and discuss the first two pieces. She also noted how wonderful it was to be back at Lawrence, saying that Appleton “feels like [their] home in the Midwest.” She then introduced the next piece, which incorporated Wayang Wong, “an ancient form of Balinese dance drama known for its beautiful and unique sacred masks and its singular focus on the Ramayana.” This particular piece, Susilo explained, told the story of twin brothers who, while fighting over a magical chalice, are transformed into monkeys by mistake. Dancers I Put Wibi Wicaksana and Ida Bagus Putu Eka Wirawan portrayed the monkeys, entering the stage dressed in intricate costumes complete with gorgeous monkey masks and tails poking out from under their robes. Their movements were, of course, monkey-like — somewhat erratic, and highly energized. Unlike many forms of Western dance, dancers of Wayang Wong are able to “signal the drummer to stop/start the music, change the tempo, melody and feeling of the scene.” This aspect made the performance relatively unpredictable, which enhanced the excitement of the scene.

In the following piece, dancer Dewa Ayu Larassanti portrayed a young man in love, as was the title of the number. It is explained that “North Bali is famous for casting female dancers in the energetic movement and temperaments of young men — from sweet and playful to powerful and fearless.” Larassanti’s movements captured this description incredibly well. In some moments, she moved her eyes, neck and hands separately from the rest of her body to the beat of the music in a mischievous way, demonstrating a playful energy; at other times, she shuffled about the stage infringing on the personal space of the drummers as a demonstration of power.

After intermission, there were two more pieces before the finale. The final piece was perhaps the most incredible because of the perfect unison that the dancers and musicians alike remained in for such an extended period of time. The piece tells the story of two sisters, who are both married to a King, and what happens when the younger sister attempts to kill the King. When her plan is foiled, “the queen is transformed into a terrifying demoness”. In the performance, her transformation is represented by a change in dance and in costume, when she seamlessly leaves the stage and is replaced by dancer Ida Bagus Putu Eka Wirawan, who wears a mask and is draped in a feather-like robe. The musicians leave their instruments, remove their shirts, and begin chanting kecak — a type of body music — in an attempt to fight off the demon. Unfortunately, they are ultimately defeated, knocked to the ground by one huge blow from the transformed queen.

The show received a well-deserved standing ovation, having truly wowed the audience. Hopefully this is not the last time Lawrence will be visited by the incredible Gamelan Çudamani. For those interested, Lawrence has its own Gamelan ensemble called Gamelan Cahaya Asri, directed by master Balinese musician and Lecturer of Music I Dewa Ketut Alit Adnyana. Their next performance will be announced sometime this fall.