Gamelan Dharma Swara to Perform ‘Springtime Super Nova’ in Ridgewood

By Stephanie Meditz

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Ridgewood-based performing arts ensemble Gamelan Dharma Swara will present traditional music and dance from the Indonesian island of Bali to ring in the spring season with a bang.

On April 15 at 7 p.m, they will perform traditional Balinese gamelan music and dance in their “Springtime Super Nova” at Ridgewood Presbyterian Church’s Stone Circle Theatre.

Balinese gamelan is a type of music characterized by quick tempo shifts and melodic sounds produced by percussion instruments.

“They call this traditional ensemble Balinese gong kebyar,” president Victoria Lo Mellin said. “Kebyar is a term that means kind of like a flowering, a blossoming or an explosion.”

Gamelan famously uses metallophones, or bronze-keyed, intricately carved instruments, as well as several drums, gongs and sulings, or bamboo flutes.

“One of the things that gives gamelan that intrinsic sound is the fact that all of the instruments are tuned in pairs, and they’re tuned slightly apart from each other so it creates this wavelike sound in the air, which is a symbol of the spirits inhabiting the instruments,” she said.

The group will perform three full ensemble works —  two dances and one instrumental piece.

One of the dances will depict the fierceness of a warrior, and the other is about ideal qualities in a king. 

“What I really love about our presentation is that our dancers are female, and it’s kind of subverting this idea of gender identity and really putting this new feminine strength behind those gendered dances,” Lo Mellin said.

The dancers’ colorful costumes and makeup take between four and five hours to put on.

“An audience can expect to see what that dynamic, classic sense of what Balinese gamelan would mean for any person who were to come across it for the first time, even in Bali, those traditional dances that really give Balinese gamelan its characteristic sound, characteristic visual,” she said.

Founded in 1989, Gamelan Dharma Swara is a community-based ensemble, meaning that it consists of members who may not have played instruments or visited Bali previously.


Gamelan music has a very dynamic sound, and is played mostly with percussion instruments.
Photo via

The group meets once a week to learn and eventually perform Balinese arts for the community.

Some members have over thirty years’ experience performing with the group, and others have only joined within the last six months.

Mellin has performed gamelan for over fifteen years, and she has been Gamelan Dharma Swara’s president for seven years.

She got her start in Gamelan Galak Tika, a group based in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I had found gamelan as just a part of my individual study and loved sitting in on rehearsals so much that I wanted Lo Mto learn what it was all about,” she said.

She played the bamboo flute for many years, but she has since picked up several instruments.

Lo Mellin now plays the ugal for Gamelan Dharma Swara, a metallophone that essentially leads the ensemble.

The group performed for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the New York Philharmonic’s Nightcap series on March 18.

In 2010, they were the first Western group to be invited to the Bali Arts Festival as part of their gong kebyar competition.

Gamelan Dharma Swara is currently in residence at Ridgewood Presbyterian Church, and they have been based in Ridgewood since September.

“I think one of the biggest things for this ensemble and one of my goals for this particular performance is to really start integrating the ensemble into the local arts ecology,” she said. “As a resident in Ridgewood myself, it’s the first time in my life where I’m really in touch with small business owners. I run into people every single day where I know the people’s first name. I really wanted to feel as though the community ensemble had that same feel, could really integrate itself into the community. Because I think it’s important the community understands what we’re trying to bring to their neighborhood as well.”

Gamelan is integral to daily life in Bali, and she hopes to break down artistic barriers in the Ridgewood community as well. 

To accomplish this, Gamelan Dharma Swara offers two interactive public workshops per year in which the ensemble explains the way the music is structured.

By the end of each workshop, the group can play a few short pieces that demonstrate some key tenets of gamelan music.

“I think gamelan is such an interesting conduit for community members to find their own artistry…it’s really important for people to feel like, as a community member, they have that kind of potential, that they have a wellspring of creativity,” Lo Mellin said. “We’re offering an alternative culture to find that latent talent. I think everybody has a part that they can bring to the table, and they can challenge themselves to be a performer, and within a very very short period of time.”

The next workshop will take place on April 30 at Ridgewood Presbyterian Church.

The performance will consist of two sets, the first of which will feature Concetta Abbate’s ensemble.

Abbate’s contemporary classical music has a lyrical, narrative quality, which will contrast gamelan’s explosive, dynamic style.

“Through gamelan, you meet a lot of interesting people, and gamelan sort of has been an important part of my communal and social network. I met Concetta through somebody who used to perform in the gamelan,” Lo Mellin said. “The fact that we’re able to bring so many local creative cohorts…into one singular place, I think it’s going to be really exciting.”

Tickets for Gamelan Dharma Swara’s Springtime Super Nova are available for $25 at or for $30 at the door.

“Gamelan is an important interwoven experience in the daily culture of somebody who is Balinese. Gamelan is really integrated into the daily life, and I want the community to feel as though gamelan has a place in that community.”

Queens College professor premieres “Action Songs/Protest Dances”

Telling stories of racial injustice through dance

By Stephanie Meditz

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After a two-year creative process conducted via Zoom, Kupferberg Center for the Arts will host the world premiere of Edisa Weeks’ “Action Songs/Protest Dances.”

“Action Songs/Protest Dances” is a live performance that combines original music by Martha Redbone, Spirit McIntyre and Taina Asili with modern dance to tell stories of past and present racial injustice in America.

Three songs incorporate Queens College Professor Edisa Weeks’ research on civil rights activist James Forman, especially his book, “The Making of Black Revolutionaries.”

Edisa Weeks is a Brooklyn-based choreographer, educator and director of DELIRIOUS Dance

The Queens College Rosenthal Library is home to an archive of Forman’s personal documents, including his FBI files, collection of political pamphlets and original drafts of his books.

Weeks was interested in researching Forman’s archive because of his critique of capitalism as an exploitative system.

“As a choreographer, I really believe in a researched performance process where it’s looking at history, looking at what has gone before and to bring it forward into the present. And so, for me, it’s been really satisfying to be able to do that with this project,” she said.

“What are things that James Forman cared about and how many of those issues like reparations are we still needing to address in America? And what are things that we actually have achieved?” she continued. “For me, as a Black woman, it would’ve been impossible for me to teach at Queens College 60 years ago, but now that’s something that’s actually possible because of the work and efforts that people like James Forman did.”

The other two songs reflect current social justice issues and were inspired by the chain of racial hate crimes in 2020, including the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

“I kept on wondering what is a way that I, as a choreographer, can lend a voice to a lot of the ferment or protest that was happening,” Weeks said. “Or just for America to be a just and truly great nation.”

Weeks’ choreography is inspired by African dances from her childhood and modern dance that she has studied.

The creative process paired each of the three composers with two dancers, and each group drew parallels between current social issues and relevant topics in James Forman’s archive.

Taina Asili wrote a song related to the idea in Forman’s “Black Manifesto” of financial reparations for direct descendants of enslaved people.

Composer Taina Asili wrote a song about financial reparations for descendants of enslaved people.

The song and accompanying choreography both incorporate Afro-Caribbean elements.

“Each song is unique to the dancer and also to the message of the song,” Weeks said.

This project began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Weeks worked with the dancers and composers via Zoom until this September.

“I’ve had a month to work with the dancers and to choreograph, so it’s been a little intense and stressful,” she said. “However, also incredibly generative. I think, partially because we were in such a long gestation period, the dancers really are invested in the songs and the songs are coming from them.”

Weeks hopes that the performance will expose a new generation to James Forman’s ideas and motivate people to strive for justice in their communities.

“I’m hoping people can…experience a work that engages song and lyrics and dance and be inspired,” she said.

“Action Songs/Protest Dances” is the inaugural work of the Kupferberg Arts Incubator, an initiative that began in 2020 to give professional artists who teach at Queens College a two-year residency.

“Without the immediate prospect of resuming live events, we decided that we wanted to devote significant resources and energy toward the development of new work, which obviously takes time,” Jon Yanofsky, Kupferberg Center for the Arts director, said.

KCA’s mission is to provide accessible cultural entertainment for both the Queens College community and the entire borough.

The Kupferberg Arts Incubator is geared toward artists of color, artists who live and work in communities of color and artists whose work addresses social inequities.

“We picked Edisa Weeks, a choreographer and professor that Kupferberg had the opportunity to work with on multiple occasions. She led the dance program at Queens College, and we were just all so impressed with the way she connected with students,” Yanofsky said. “She soundly met that criteria.”

“Edisa just has such a unique dynamic point of view and she pulls people along by the strength of her conviction, just her incredibly ebullient spirit and this collaborative nature that is truly authentic,” he continued. “It was really wonderful and refreshing to see the hard work that true collaboration requires…The piece is a composite of all the people involved.”

The Kupferberg Arts Incubator’s next iteration will be in 2024 with Queens College professor Chloe Bass.

Action Songs/Protest Dances will premiere at Kupferberg Center for the Arts on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 13 at 3 p.m.

Tickets are available for $20.

After each performance, audience members are invited to participate in a discussion with Weeks and the rest of the creative team.

Local gymnastics group performs at Barclays

Although the New York Liberty lost last Tuesday’s game against the Aces, another New York team walked out of Barclays Center victorious.

Students of Forest Hills Rhythmic Gymnastics & Dance gave the performance of a lifetime that evening, dazzling the audience with intricate choreography, captivating stage presence, and bendy poses that are enough to make you cramp up just looking at them.

Forest Hills Rhythmic Gymnastics & Dance

Forest Hills Rhythmic Gymnastics & Dance has been providing intensive physical education to the Forest Hills community since 1991—with rehearsals in the basement of the Forest Hills Jewish Center.

It is owned and operated by the Spivak family, who hails from Ukraine.

Dedicated to teaching girls ages 4-16, the studio places an emphasis on organization, discipline, and growing self esteem through the art form and sport of rhythmic gymnastics.

“Rhythmic gymnastics is an elegant, century-old women’s sport that comes from Eastern Europe where girls express themselves through music and choreographed routines. It is very different from traditional gymnastics—there are no bars, beams, vaults, or trampolines—instead, they use ropes, ribbons, balls, hula hoops, and batons,” Alex Spivak said.

“It’s a mix of dance, choreography, ballet and gymnastics,” he continued. “They don’t come to play, they come to work.”

The girls attend two-hour practices for several days each week, each class consisting of stretches, warm-ups, laps around the room, and practicing routines.

The routine performed at Barclays Center was choreographed by Mila Spivak, and has been in the works since January.

It consists of four songs, open floor, hula hoop, and rope sections. Each girl wore a different color bodysuit to bring a sea of color to the court, with their hair tightly wrapped into a bun—or else they would probably step on it.

Although there was the typical sense of nervous energy backstage, the girls were excited to perform the routine they worked so hard to perfect for months.

The Gymnastics & Dance team performs at Barclays Center during the NY Liberty game.

“I really like how much rhythmic gymnastics challenges me and motivates me to continue doing it. And the coaches are all really nice,” Elizabeth Velasco, an 11-year-old student of Forest Hills Rhythmic Gymnastics & Dance, said.

“When I watch the other girls who are way more professional, I say to myself, ‘I want to do that, too,’” she continued. “So then you keep on trying to do it, and next time I go to class I might try to learn that trick. You could end up doing it in one of the routines.”

“I think it’s really cool once you’ve been here for a couple of years, and then you tell a friend in school who doesn’t do gymnastics or isn’t flexible. When you show them a weird trick, it just completely freaks them out,” Leana Rogovskaya, 11, said. “It’s so much fun to see their reactions.”

Their coach, Mila Spivak, said that a lot of the young women who come into her studio often stay there for years, and eventually go on to become coaches themselves.

She takes much pride in her students and loves them like her own, keeping every gift, drawing, or personal item they give her forever.

“I am so proud of the girls; they did an amazing job,” Spivak said. “Some of them are five and six years old, and just started this year. It’s important that they listen to the music and work together.”

The girls were congratulated by all their supporters once they got off stage, and performed a group cheer to commemorate the moment.

Spivak informed them that they will start a brand new routine once summer vacation is over, and that they will all move up a level.

Beaming smiles and excited giggles filled the room.

Team poses for a group photo

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