Music and Dance of Bali
… is to foster artistic exchange between Bali and the United States through residencies, workshops, performances, and the creation of innovative new works of music and dance; and to share the excitement of this exchange with diverse audiences in California, the US, and abroad.
In October of 1979, when we met in a borrowed Berkeley living room to begin a workshop in Balinese music, none of us were thinking of anything but the challenge at hand: learning gamelan. We had the idealism of beginners, a fresh love for Balinese music, and — overfilling the cramped space — a fine set of instruments just off the container ship from Bali. Among us was I Wayan Suweca, our awesome, capricious guru (and co-founder of the group, with Rachel Cooper and Michael Tenzer), whose supreme skill and artistic fire made us putty in his hands. Soon, by some alchemy of culture contact and group experience, something marvelous began to grow. Everyone who emerged from those early rehearsals knew that this “something” was not ours to control, that it was shaping us profoundly and lastingly.
Gamelan Sekar Jaya has worked under the direction and guidance of renowned Balinese artists, including many from the faculty of Bali’s National Institute of the Arts (ISI Denpasar), who are invited for extended residencies, ranging from one month to a year. These master musicians, dancers, and theater artists are a central focus of cross-cultural interchange, and a continual source of inspiration to the group’s members and audiences.
Gamelan Sekar Jaya comprises several kinds of gamelan orchestras—currently including kebyar, angklung, jegog, and gender wayang—and dancers. True to the Balinese tradition, musicians and dancers learn through direct imitation and training from master musicians, without the aid of notation. In various combinations, these ensembles have presented over five hundred concerts in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The organization hosts an extensive educational program, offering workshops and classes in Bay Area schools and community centers, bringing understanding and appreciation of Balinese arts to diverse audiences.
The vibrant community of artists, students, and supporters that has formed within and around Gamelan Sekar Jaya reflects Bali’s living artistic traditions. In addition to its work in traditional arts, the group has sponsored the creation of more than eighty new works by Balinese and American artists, in major projects supported by the NEA, the MAP Fund, The Willam and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the National Dance Project, and many other foundations and individuals.
As a result, Gamelan Sekar Jaya is seen in Indonesia not only as a flowering of traditional Balinese arts in a distant land, but also as a laboratory for the creation of new ideas, many of which have an impact on artistic development in Bali itself. The Boston Globe has commented, “The success of this group has far exceeded its founders' wildest dreams as the ensemble has become an honored participant in the evolution of Bali's musical culture."
In 2000, during Gamelan Sekar Jaya’s fifth tour to Bali, the Governor of Bali awarded Gamelan Sekar Jaya the Dharma Kusuma—Bali’s highest award for artistic achievement, never before given to a foreign group. The name “Sekar Jaya” is now a household word in Bali. Andy Toth, ethnomusicologist and former US Consular Agent in Bali, has written,
"It is no exaggeration to say that most of the 2.8 million Balinese have seen Sekar Jaya in live performance and television broadcasts, and the group continues to receive special coverage from the Indonesian electronic and printed media... their cross-cultural works not only have been accepted eagerly by American and Indonesian audiences; their innovative compositions have directly stimulated creativity on the part of the Balinese themselves".
Gamelan Sekar Jaya provides many valuable cross-cultural benefits to the local community. It introduces Balinese arts for the first time to thousands of people each year, many of whom later develop further interests in Indonesian culture and arts. Gamelan Sekar Jaya’s artistic community, and the atmosphere of cultural exchange at its center, is of great importance to the Indonesian population of northern California. The group’s membership increasingly includes Balinese residents of the Bay Area, for whom there might be few other cultural connections to help them retain a strong sense of Balinese identity.
Gamelan Sekar Jaya fosters an exchange that resonates on a worldwide scale. It is known everywhere there is activity in the field of Indonesian performing arts—the US, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and elsewhere—as a model organization in the field. Gamelan Sekar Jaya is one of the most thriving centers of cross-cultural interchange in the US, and a vital conduit of traditional arts, new work, and artists. This was illustrated in the Summer Intensive in Balinese Performing Arts, held during Gamelan Sekar Jaya’s 25th Anniversary Festival in 2004. The eight-day Summer Intensive was the first of its kind, involving seven Balinese master artists/teachers and more than 100 participants from three countries. Its success directly inspired the development of similar workshops in Hawaii, New York, Holland, and Bali.