An internationally respected Balinese music and dance troupe that was founded in Berkeley 32 years ago is hoping to return to the city.
Gamelan Sekar Jaya, a 65-member ensemble of musicians and dancers, is planning to move its headquarters into a vacant building at 3023 Shattuck Avenue, site of the former home of the Berkeley Daily Planet.
The building, right near the intersection of Shattuck and Ashby, would provide 1,700 square feet of rehearsal and office space, as well as a set of apartments to accommodate artists visiting from Bali.
“It feels fitting,” said Sara Gambrina-Bekamp, the group’s general manager. “It will be great for us. The place we are in currently is quite cluttered and crowded. We will be able to leave our gamelan instruments set up, and not have to cart them off to storage all the time.”
The building is currently zoned for office use, and Gamelan Sekar Jaya is applying for a new use permit for a musical space. The troupe does not plan to hold performances in the center, but will hold music classes every evening and have dance classes on the weekend.
The troupe is hosting a community meeting at La Peňa Cultural Center at 10:30 am on Saturday to explain its plans.
Gamelan Sekar Jaya was started by in 1979 by I. Wayan Suweca, Rachel Cooper and Michael Tenzer, who had been exposed to Balinese music at the Center for World Music at the Julia Morgan Theater. It was the first community-based Balinese gamelan in the United States and has gone on to international acclaim. It was awarded the Dharma Kusuma Award for Cultural Service by the Balinese government, the highest such honor given.
In the late 1980s, the group moved its headquarters to El Cerrito. In 2008, the group moved to a building in the Temescal area of Oakland that was slated to be torn down for condominiums. The group has been looking for a new space for about a year.
The group had not moved back to Berkeley earlier because rents are higher than in neighboring cities and the cost of business is also more expensive, said Gambrina-Bekamp. But this building is so perfect that the group is willing to pay more.
Since Gamelan Sekar Jaya must apply for a new use permit and that requires a public hearing, Berkeley required that it hire a consultant, she said. It will cost the group about $5,000 to prepare and hold the hearing, which has not been scheduled. The group also had to pay $2,500 to hire a sound engineer.
“It’s difficult for non-profits to locate in Berkeley because it’s such an expensive process,” said Gambrina-Bekamp. “It’s more difficult in Berkeley than in Oakland or El Cerrito.”
But being in Berkeley has many additional benefits, she said. The troupe brings over Balinese musicians each year, and they perform with the troupe and also teach classes in UC Berkeley’s music department, said Gambrina-Bekamp. So being near the campus will make it easier for the artists. The building is also close to BART, she pointed out.
Listen to some recordings of the group’s music.