the traditions of Balinese performing arts and committed to exploring new music, New York City’s Gamelan Dharma Swara is carving out a compelling niche.
Founded in 2000, Dharma Swara is one of the leading Balinese gamelan and dance groups in the United States and has performed at renowned NYC music venues including (le) Poisson Rouge, Symphony Space, Joe’s Pub, Roulette, and BAM, as well as cultural institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, and the Asia Society. The group toured Bali in 2010 with an invitation to perform in the Bali Arts Festival’s popular Battle of the Bands, and most recently, a stunning performance at Basilica Soundscape in Hudson, New York.
While traditional repertoire
is an honored part of Dharma Swara’s vision, they also value the exploration of new music for gamelan. This includes recent compositions, such as Joel Mellin’s Synesthesia, Andrew McGraw’s Sikut Sanga, Nerissa Campbell’s Legian 1983 (Breathe My War), and Putu Saptanyana’s Lingga Tangan. The group has also performed works by leading Balinese composers, including Made Subandi’s Kupu-Kupu Kuning and Dewa Ketutlit’s Cecanangan and Geregel. Dharma Swara is also currently commissioning new works for gamelan.
The intricate patterns of Balinese music and dance are learned through traditional aural methods with an incredible amount of dedication over long periods of rehearsal. Most members of Dharma Swara have been with the group for many years. A large number of them have also studied or lived in Bali, bringing back their knowledge to share and enhance the group. Dharma Swara plays with spirit, dedication, and gratitude on gamelan semara dana instruments. The gamelan semara dana was invented by Balinese musician, composer, and master gamelansmith I Wayan Beratha in 1987. The ensemble combines the popular 20th century gong kebyar tuning (selisir, a 5-tone scale) with the older 7-tone semar pagulingan (16th or 17th c. CE), making it possible to play a wide range of traditional and new repertoire.
Dharma Swara has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, and the Asian American Arts Alliance, among others.