Robin Gilbert and Carlos Fittante in "Tigerlily and the Dragonfly". Photo: Julie Lemberger

Islene Pinder Talks About Performing in Bali at 81

Returning to the stage after a ten-year hiatus can be a challenge for any dancer, but imagine being a senior citizen and dancing in a foreign country. BALAM Dance Theatre’s Founding Director Islene Pinder spoke candidly with Artistic Director Carlos Fittante about returning to the stage at 81 in Bali.

CF:  What motivated you to return to the stage in Bali?

IP:  I felt everyone in the company was so supportive of the idea that any worries I had about not being quick or perfectly efficient in rehearsal would not matter.  I knew everyone genuinely loved the idea, so this supportive spirit really gave me the chutzpa to go ahead with my desire to perform again.
I was particularly fond of the idea of returning to the stage in Bali because of my many years and experience of learning, performing and teaching Balinese dance.  It is my primary movement language and skill set.  I also felt dancing in Bali was a fitting affirmation of the deep and loving relationship between myself and my adopted Balinese godson, A A Gede Anom Putra, and his beautiful family.  It was the Balinese dance that first attracted me to Bali, but it was the connection to my Balinese family that kept me coming back with such passion. 

 CF:  Did you have to do any special training or preparation?

IP:  No.  I did not do any special physical training, but I had to cultivate the right attitude.  At first, I was intimidated by the idea; after all, it has been ten years since I last performed and I am accustomed to handling the executive, administrative side of running the company, which is a very different mindset.

I had to let myself focus on thinking of myself as a dancer, and did not worry about all the details for the creation of the new ballet for me.  As BALAM’s artistic director, you handled all of those details, so I could just focus on my character and movement. 

I am a dancer who likes repetition.  I would say that was my “special training” to prepare myself.  The company and I rehearsed frequently.  In Bali, we would run through the dance right after breakfast on the terrace.  As any dancer knows, repetition helps galvanize the new neuromuscular pathways needed for the movements to feel like second nature.  I also used the run throughs to shape my character’s agem or body posture and to find the best angles and expressions for moving with the mask.  Actually, a lot goes into performing any dance, especially if you want to be conscious of your work and do the best you can.

I had the comfort of knowing the choreography would be based on my movement preferences and strengths, and I knew the Balinese gamelan musicians would take pleasure in having me dance with them again.  There was a lot of camaraderie, laughter and fun in the process.

CF:  What was most surprising for you about performing again?

IP:  The rehearsal aspect surprised me because I discovered I felt energized after our practices, even if I entered the studio tired and worried. 

CF:  Many people would think having this experience at 81 is special.  Is there anything unique that your age has given you for performing on this tour? 

IP:  I was surprised that I wanted more, and that I could do more extensive dancing.  The gamelan music still stuns and thrills me after all these years.  I also think the Balinese gamelan musicians lovingly and playfully encouraged me because of my age, which, in fact, freed me.   This comes from the Balinese cultural reverence for elders and family.  We know and have worked with each other for years.  Of course, my company members are always loving and joyful when I am able to be with them.  The sense of family that permeated the process, the awareness, and the understood meaning of different generations creating together was a big part of this project.  It was a joy and I felt blessed.

CF:  Will you perform in New York, as well? Yes, because it is a continuation of a specific and special type of interaction with my company and I find the audiences in the Bronx, where BALAM performs every year at Lehman College, have a similar appreciation for family, as the Balinese do.

IP:  This tour is more than just a business trip for you, since you are the godmother to your Balinese family.  Can you talk a little about this for our readers?  

No matter what work I have to do here in Bali, whether it is my movement research, commissioning new gamelan music or masks, or touring with my company, I have a deep and loving bond with Anom and his beautiful family.  We take pleasure in being with each other and understand that our hearts are one.  The fact that we can share in an artistic capacity, too, is just another wonderful expression of our love for each other.

CF:  Now that the tour has finished, what is on the horizon for BALAM Dance Theatre?

IP:  We have some performances coming up in the fall and we will continue to expand our artistic scope.  I am excited by your work with actors and there has already been talk about a return to Bali in 2012 with more collaboration, maybe creating a dance for Anom Putra, yourself and Toshi Hamada.  It is very exciting to think about.

CF: Any closing thoughts?

IP:  I’m sad to leave and the time raced by, but I am moved that I had the opportunity to realize that at 81 I am not as distant from movement and my love of dance, which remains as strong a driving force in my body and life, as when I was a little girl.