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Baroque Rhythms 

An up-close look at Balinese music and dance at University of Richmond.

click to enlarge Balinese performers from the Indonesian Institute of the Arts will present one of only two free performances in America at the University of Richmond's Carole Weinstein International Center on Tuesday, Oct. 25th.

Dave Parrish Photography

Balinese performers from the Indonesian Institute of the Arts will present one of only two free performances in America at the University of Richmond's Carole Weinstein International Center on Tuesday, Oct. 25th.

Richmonders will have a rare opportunity this coming week to experience, up close and personal, the exotic music and ornate religious pageantry of Bali, Indonesia.

A special Balinese cultural delegation made up of fifteen dancers and Gamelan musicians from the Indonesian Institute of Art, led by Dr. I Madé Bandem, Bali's foremost choreographer and scholar, will present a free Tuesday, Oct. 25th night performance and demonstration at the University of Richmond's Carole Weinstein International Center. Earlier in the day, the troupe will also deliver a "flash" performance for university students -- without full makeup and costume, which take hours to prepare. That show is also free and open to the public.

"They will be performing mostly traditional Indonesian music from the '30s and '40s," says Andy McGraw, associate professor of music at UR, who will be hosting the delegation as part of the university's global music series. "This is music you would play in a Balinese Hindu temple. Part of the dance would be a traditional offering that you would perform in a temple ceremony, an offering dance to the gods. But you can perform it in a secular context as well ... the most recent work will be a piece or two that Bandem and his wife composed in the '90s."

Dr. Bandem, who will both participate in the performance and lead a demonstration, has been called "The Joe Papp of Bali," referring to the famed Broadway impresario. Through seminars, lectures and performances, the president of the Indonesian Institute of Art has been a global pied piper for the Balinese arts. He's also a driving force behind the founding of the famous Bali Arts Festival, which helps to preserve traditions, and the Museum Gamelan, which highlights the musical instruments used in Gamelan music, like metallophones played by mallets and hand-played drums called the Kendhang.

"Bandem grew up in a family renowned as performers, dancers and shadow masters," says McGraw. "He's from Bali, but got his masters from Wesleyan University [where McGraw also got his masters]. Basically, any artist who has gone through Bali, like Julie Taymor, he's worked with them."

The performances at UR will be stripped-down affairs, half the size of a full Balinese Gamelan ensemble. But you'll still feel the power, the professor says.

"The music is very rhythmic, percussion based, very virtuosic with fast, interlocking parts. It's often described as baroque." He adds that the school's international center commons, where the evening concert will be held, is not a big proscenium stage and only has 75 seats. "It's just a multi-use room, so you will be five feet away from these world-class performers. That's what is so unique. You'll be able to get as close to these traditions as you would if you were in Bali."

Last month, as part of the global music series, the International Center presented the bomba music of Puerto Rico with the Richmond-based bomba ensemble, Kadencia. It was the first in the series since before COVID. According to McGraw, this Balinese ensemble from the Indonesian Institute is only making two stops in America. The other will be at the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C..

"It's a unique opportunity to experience this," he says. "This music is very different, the tuning system is different, the metrical ideas are different. It's not a cultural tradition that has been globalized into one of these Starbucks Putumayo global groove musics. It's really been insulated from that because of Bali's strong religious culture, where they have to perform these pieces in this way. They've never been pulled by the need to sell accessible beats."

He laughs. "Basically, Paul Simon hasn't ruined it yet."

Balinese performers from the Indonesian Institute of the Arts will present two performances at University of Richmond's Carole Weinstein International Center on Tuesday, Oct. 25th. The afternoon "flash" performance is at 3 pm. at the International Center Ellipse and the concert is at 7:30 in the International Center Commons. Both performances are free.

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