World Music Weekend explores an Indian epic

Featuring the college gamelan orchestra and a Cambodian music and dance troupe, this year’s World Music Weekend at Bates College takes place Friday and Saturday, March 24 and 25, in the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall, 75 Russell St. Titled “The Ramayana in Southeast Asia,” the weekend explores adaptations of the ancient, seminal epic from India titled “Ramayana.”

The Cambodian Classics Ensemble, a Washington, D.C.-based performance group, offers a dance demonstration and workshop at 1:30 p.m. Friday. At 8 p.m., the ensemble performs scenes from the “Raemker,” the Cambodian adaptation of the Hindu epic. A pre-concert lecture takes place at 7:30 p.m.

At 4 p.m. Saturday, the college gamelan orchestra, Bates dancers and guest artists perform “The Abduction of Sita,” an episode from an Indonesian version of “Ramayana.”

All events take place in the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall, 75 Russell St., and are open to the public at no cost. The festival is sponsored by the Freeman Foundation. For more information, please call 207-786-6135 or 207-753-6968.

The 2,000-year-old “Ramayana” is a long, complex tale exploring the conflict between good and evil. Its numerous plot twists include a dynastic struggle, a hero’s exile, the kidnapping of his wife and a grand-scale battle between demons and gods.

Though of Indian origin, “it’s a cultural icon for all of South and Southeast Asia,” says Gina Fatone, assistant professor of music and the program’s organizer. “It’s amazing how one epic poem can travel and have many different variants.”

The “Ramayana,” she says, is “often referred to as a story that has become indigenized everywhere it has gone. The characters’ names sometimes change and details of the performance sometimes change, but the core elements of the story remain the same.”

The Cambodian Classics Ensemble consists of professional musicians and dancers, most of whom came from Cambodia since the mid-1970s in response to civil strife there. Its members include music director Chum Ngek, a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow who has mastered more than 20 instruments and diverse traditional genres.

Performing with the ensemble is Sok Sokheun, a Cambodian dancer living in Portland.

Directed by Fatone, the Bates Gamelan Mawar Makar (“Blossom of Inspiration”) plays music from West and Central Java, in Indonesia. “Gamelan” refers to a traditional Indonesian percussion orchestra composed mainly of tuned gongs, metal-keyed instruments and drums, and sometimes featuring voice and stringed instruments.

Joining the gamelan for the Saturday performance are Undang Sumarna and dancer Ben Arcangel. Sumarna, a longtime mentor to Fatone and an Indonesian master drummer, has taught gamelan at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for nearly three decades. He is serving as guest director of the gamelan during a weeklong residency at Bates, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Also a Mellon Learning Associate, Ben Arcangel is a Filipino-American dancer expert in Indonesian dance. A performer and graduate student based in San Francisco, he will coach and perform with the Bates dancers.

Sagaree Sengupta, a member of the Asian studies faculty at Bates, gives an introductory talk for the Saturday program.

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