Dedicated to the traditions of Balinese performing arts and committed to exploring new music, Gamelan Dharma Swara is carving out a compelling niche in New York City’s vibrant arts scene. Founded in 1989, Dharma Swara is one of the leading Balinese gamelan and dance ensembles 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 MoMA and the Asia Society. In 2010, the ensemble toured Bali with an invitation to compete in the Bali Arts Festival’s popular Battle of the Bands, a performance that the Bali Post called “Awesome… Stunning… Astonishing.” The New Yorker described the ensemble’s performance in 2014 at Basilica Soundscape festival in Hudson, New York as provoking “perhaps the weekend’s most rapturous response (including a fair amount of crying.)”
Dharma Swara is proud to perform traditional Balinese repertoire alongside new works by North American and Balinese composers, including Joel Mellin’s ‘Synesthesia’, Andrew McGraw’s Sikut Sanga, Dewa Ketut Alit’s Cecanangan, Nerissa Campbell’s Legian 1983 (Breathe My War), and Made Subandi’s Kupu-Kupu Kuning. Particularly notable is the ensemble’s performance of Alit’s Geregel (2000), a landmark work noted for its groundbreaking innovations and technical challenges: Dharma Swara is currently the only non-Balinese group to learn and perform this intensely demanding composition.
The instruments on which Dharma Swara plays, known as gamelan semara dana, combine 5-tone gong kebyar and 7-tone semar pagulingan tunings, and were pioneered by gamelan master I Wayan Beratha in 1987 in order to enable ensembles to play a wider range of both traditional and new repertoire. Inspired by the instruments’ flexibility and the creative energy of its New York City home, Dharma Swara collaborates across genres and commissions new compositions for semara dana while remaining firmly dedicated to traditional art, striving to present work that dissolves the separation between audience and performer, local and foreign.