Gamelan Sekar Jaya(GSJ), a sixty-member group of musicians and dancers specializing in Balinese performing arts, developed a new collaborative work with Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company (DAC) entitled Tjak Box. The two lead artists Emiko Saraswati Susilo (Fall 2009 Guest Dance Director for GSJ) and Rashidi Omari (Dancer and Artistic Director of DAC) worked together sharing ideas and finding common ground between their two respective performing traditions—merging urban music and dance with Balinese performing arts.
The inspiration for the piece was based on the story of Kunti and Karna in the great Hindu epic, the Mahabarata. Set against the backdrop of the great war between two rival clans, this story depicts a young unwed mother (Kunti) who faces the difficult choice of what to do with her child (Karna). Leaving her child to the mercy of a river, the young Karna was found and adopted by the Kuravas, a rival group of Kunti’s Pandava clan. Thematic links between this story and the plight of urban life for teenagers were incorporated with monologues and poems, highlighting topics of teenage insecurity, loss of innocence, gang violence, peer pressure and personal growth.
In preparation for Tjak Box, GSJ an DAC held artistic-exchange workshops in their respective headquarters in Oakland. Omari offered dance workshops for GSJ dancers, and GSJ artists taught Balinese dance and the vocal tradition kecak (a.k.a. monkey chant) to DAC. This exchange was identified by performers as an important step in encouraging familiarity with each other. It was a meaningful path to establishing a working rapport with one another, which encouraged curiosity and flexibility amongst the performers-- two crucial elements to a successful collaboration.
Music was developed for the gamelan bronze Gong Kebyar ensemble by I Made Arnawa (Fall 2009 Guest Music Director of GSJ) to accompany the collaborative work. Omari, Arnawa and Emiko developed the dramatic progression of the work—scenes, musical flow, sets, and lighting. Sound artist Dan Bales pieced together clips of urban music to weave in and out of the gamelan, providing an aural juxtaposition of the traditional to the modern, and also emphasizing their common rhythmic energy. The result culminated in two sold-out performances that incorporated hip-hop, urban dance, American spiritual singing, Balinese dance, kecak, and gamelan music while exploring the connections between an ancient tale from the Mahabharata and the life of youth in Oakland. Both groups exhibited a mesmerizing mix of ethnicity, talent, music and movement that dramatically conveyed a message of empowerment and hope.