A window into the exotic and often complex music and dance of Indonesia was offered Friday night at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center as part of the Sterne Virtuoso Series.
To provide authenticity, there were about 17 musicians and dancers from Bali or Java called the Bali All-Stars. Assisting them were several musicians and dancers of the college’s own Gamelan Banyu Wali — gamelan is another word for ensemble — a program that host Elizabeth Macy founded last year.
Taking it all in was an enthusiastic near-capacity crowd and, on his iPhone, Ghafur Akbar Dharmaputra, Indonesia’s consul general in New York City.
The brightly colored music is based on pentatonic scales and, in this case, was performed variously by four huge tuned gongs each hanging from a horizontal pole, two small drums similar to bongos, small tuned kettle gongs, two sets of tuned metal bars similar to xylophones, and an open-ended wooden flute (one tune). Rhythm was king and was pounded out in numerous, often repeated motifs. Melodies were very simple.
The women dancers were dressed in sumptuous, gorgeous sarongs with bejeweled bibs and headdresses.
All of the musicians were dressed in gold embossed sarongs and black T-shirts or in military-like jackets and small hats or bandanas. Everyone was barefoot. The musicians all sat on the floor to play.
In the first half, the music was mostly traditional songs at a slow or medium tempo and always rhythmic and loud. They included the instrumental “Udan Mas” (“Golden Rain”); “Rejang Dewa,” a welcome dance with six dancers in gold and ivory costumes; and the marvelous “Merak Sunda,” or “Peacock Dance,” with three dancers in ornately decorated costumes in red or pea green with fantastic peacock headdresses.
Tight little hand, arm, and head gestures, a foot placed just so, little shoulder shrugs, and small turns typified each dance. Members of the college’s Vocal Chamber Ensemble also participated in one tune from Java.
The second half was all uptempo. Different types of riffs were used, even to the inclusion of glissandos over the metal bars, which was pretty amazing. Solo dancers did “Margapati” (“Tiger Dance”); “Taruna Jaya” (“Victorious Youth”) with the dancer in an all-gold lavish costume; and the finale “Jogedan,” with the dancer enticing members of the audience or ensemble to join her on stage in a social dance.