Hands Percussion gets ambitious with its gamelan show series featuring ballet favourites.
There's magic and mystery in the air when a swan turns into a beautiful lady. But mistaken identities and an evil sorcerer stand in the way of true love – when a nutcracker transforms into a Prince, snowflakes turn into dancing maidens on Christmas Eve, and a bad fairy casts a spell on a baby princess to make her prick her finger on a spindle on her 16th birthday... and die!
This is basically Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, beloved ballets with a late-19th century score by Russia's Pyotr Ilyick Tchaikovsky. Now, Malaysian musical ensemble Hands Percussion will give his evocative compositions a new twist. In a bold experimental take on the orchestral masterpieces, they be playing the music... on gamelan.
This is something that's never been attempted or explored anywhere in the world, says Susan Sarah John, Hands Percussion’s music instructor, composer and arranger, and the person who conceptualised the concert, Tchaikovsky On Gamelan. “It’s unconventional, and we intend to achieve ultimate greatness with this,” John says.
The initial inspiration for the show was drawn from the ballets, but John says the idea of merging two obviously separate elements had been playing in her head for some time. “Since a few years ago, I have consciously decided to venture into the endless possibilities that could be explored in connecting music with Western contemporary movement,” she says.
This concert is the result of that. “It is all about magical vibrations in motion, where the music is the dance. It is truly a gateway to new frontiers,” Susan says.
This year also marks Hands Percussion’s 17th year. In June last year, the group presented an adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Danse Napolitaine from Swan Lake at a fundraising concert prior to the group's performance in France. It was first time Hands played a Western classical piece on gamelan. This time, Tchaikovsky On Gamelan will see the Hands attempting nine pieces from his ballets.
“It is an honour to play Tchaikovsky,” Susan says. “Whatever challenges we face in playing his works on the gamelan is an opportunity to understand this great composer on a deeper level. So the more personal, the more challenging it is!”
Aside from the core team of nine at Hands, the group will feature four guests for the production: Florian Antier on cello, Jae Sern on violin, Tan Su Yin on marimba, and Terence Chong on bassoon and clarinet. Jack Wan, who heads the Hands Gamelan Group, and pioneer Hands 1 member Ng Siu Yee, are the music directors, and Bernard Goh is the artistic director.
Mentioning that the concert has a repertoire that's “pretty darn impossible to play on the set”, John hopes the performance will inspire many to “go beyond their wildest dreams”.
“No words could do justice to how Tchaikovsky’s works sound on the gamelan. It is indescribable,” John says. “It’s the same same music with a different kind of magic. That’s how brilliant Tchaikovsky’s works are. The end result? Moments where the audience are taken to another place and time where nothing is constructed. It is just pure indulgence.”
Tchaikovsky On Gamelan has received support from Jabatan Kebudayaan Dan Kesenian Negara, while Yayasan Sime Darby is a partner.
> Tchaikovsky On Gamelan plays at Pentas 2, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur on these dates and times: Aug 15, 16, 22, 23 at 8:30pm; Aug 16, 17, 23, 24 at 3pm. Tickets are RM88 and RM128. Call 03-4047 9000 or visit ticketpro.com.my for details. You can also go to facebook.com/handspercussion or call 03-6141 4480, 012-779 8009 or 012-502 6883.