At this years Sacred Harvest Festival, guests White Deer and Violette offered much. Following each day from a series of six workshops for drummers by White Deer, Violette offered workshops in Improvisational Belly dance for bonfires. Members from the drumming class stayed on to provide live drumming for the dance classes.
Drawing from their backgrounds in formal music and years of performing at national Pagan Festivals and reinvigorated from a recent trip to Bangalore, India, they masterfully offered this exceedingly ambitious series for drummers and dancers….. but that’s just the start of it.
White Deer brought an entire set of Gamelan instruments. Gongs, metallophones (tubular gongs), small xylophones (Pekings), cymbals, and drums are all matched and tuned in pentatonic scale. Violette brought her mask and dance for the Balinese deity, Rangda. White Deer held three community gamelan practices where young, old, and even people who swore they had absolutely no musical talent, came together to create this Indonesian style orchestra. Violet worked with a group of tribal dancers, and ritualists, Hank Knaepple and Penny Goody, to weave an entire ritual performance.
Their interview can be heard here, or, it is short, just read on:
Tell me about what you are doing tonight.
White Deer (WD): We’re bringing a Gamelan orchestra to the Pagan community, and using our native talent here within the tribe to , with one or two practice sessions, create an amazing ambiance for a performance ritual.
What is Gamelan ?
WD: Gamelan is basically an orchestra. It is a set of tuned metallophones played together that create a “no possibility of a wrong note”, easy to access group of instruments. It is easy for drummers, particularly to branch out into melody. An opportunity for something besides “skins” to play.
These are gongs, chimes …?
WD: Tubular metallophones, there are some actual mini “Pekings” that were brought over from Bali, and a variety of knob gongs that wound up fitting the bill; one is Burmese, one Vietnamese, but they still work.
It’s roots are in ancient Pagan Bali?
WD: It is tied into ancient ceremonial religious practice, very Pagan stuff, in Indonesia. It has mostly been lost, its been converted to tourist stuff. It is our chance to bring back something like that.
And then there is the dance, Violet, what are the dances going to be about tonight?
Violette Rose(VR); Tonight I am going to be embodying the Rangda, which is traditionally used to represent the bitter, evil, sort of witch, widow, a widow witch. She, in our interpretation, is going to be a threat to the community in some way. She represents sort of the raw, primal human emotions of bitterness and jealousy, of anger lashing out at the innocent.
Is this a Balinese deity, or a hindu deity, or where does she come from ?
WD: Rangda is pretty much in Indonesia, she has parallels in Hindu mythology and there are some connections you can draw there, but she is really kind of unique to there.
VR: She is one of a duo. She is kind of the evil force you could say, and then the good force is Barong and traditionally the Barong and Rangda would dance together in this “light and dark” dance. In the end Rangda is sent off on her way. Good prevails, and it is an offering to the community there, for the particular village that is performing this ritual dance.
The performance took place Friday evening, and was not explained in advance. The story begins with the preparation of the throne by an amazingly choreographed group of tribal dancers, seen here in rehearsal:
Each laid their veil upon the throne, in turn, to their Rajasthani drum beat which included hand claps.They had cymbals attached to their hands, heads and bodies, which they slapped in unison with the music and the dance.
The beginning of the Gamelan performance signaled the arrival of Hekate (Penny Goody), in white bird ancient Shakti like form. She hovered in spirit form blessing those she touched in the audience and orchestra, and when she sat upon her throne, she became manifest. The temple priestess (Violette), dressed white in gold mask, arrived and honored her with offerings. As she withdrew, a drum beat intruded, the driving Haitian 6 beat over layed on top the solid four beat of the Gamelan, and Papa Legba (Hank Knaepple) appeared. Dressed in top hat, suit, smoking cigar and carrying rum, he engaged the audience, and scared away the priestess. He disrupted and tumbled the drummer to loud laughter, and eventually withdrew satiated.
At this point Rangda(Violette) appeared in wild Indonesian mask and loin cloth. The gamelan added cymbals, their loud dissonance expressing her scary appearance and anger. After her dance she ousted Hekate from her throne, and having achieved dominance found it wanting and eventually relinquished it back to Hekate. Hekate then offered words and blessings to any of the audience who requested it, as the Gamelan continued playing.
The basic theme of the ritual is if you give the dark forces their due, rather than fighting them, they then leave of their own accord, and to the community’s benefit.
I participated in both the Gamelan Orchestra and the ritual performance. It was the highlight of my SHF experience. The ease of the pentatonic scaled instruments to play, made it accessable to any who tried it. It was amazing to see such a professional performance arise from a few rehearsals, and drawn from community volunteers. The tribal dance ritual opening was spectacular and a demonstration of their talent that they could learn this complex dance so fast. It is a tribute to the knowledge, rich gifts, and vision offered by White Deer and Violette Rose, that the ritual performance was so successful.