From Denishawn to Aman and Avaz, Southern California has long been a center for the study and staging of non-Western dance. The CalArts World Music Festival plays an important role in this process by giving performers and audiences exposure to ancient traditions and alien cultures that provide an alternative to the empty personal and technical display that so often limits our notions of dance.
But these traditions and cultures are not easily assimilated. Indeed, the cautious and dutiful music-making at the festival's opening program, Thursday in the CalArts Modular Theatre, proved anew how much time and effort it takes just to become mediocre in the art of the Javanese gamelan.
In instrumental selections and vocal-instrumental dance accompaniments, the 21-member "Kyai Kumbul" ensemble (led by K.R.T. Wasitodiningrat) worked hard and carefully, but often sounded rhythmically stiff or sluggish, inexact about unisons and even feeble when singing became prominent. Give them time: The cascades of intricately balanced percussion accents and tones require endless practice to master idiomatically. There are no short cuts.
The dancing began with "Gunungsari," an accomplished masked solo by Judy M. Susilo--full of soft gliding-steps, deft flicks of the long ends of the sash she wore about her waist, incremental curls of wrist and sudden (but perfectly smooth) shifts from traveling movement to adjustments of body alignment.