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

Remembering Founding Director Islene Pinder (1929-2012)

Trailblazing Balinese dance pioneer, Islene Pinder, founding director of BALAM Dance Theatre (BALAM), a Lehman College-City of New York University dance professor from 1968 to 1998, became interested in Balinese dance and culture upon seeing a touring troupe of Balinese dancers and musicians perform in New York City.


Photo Credit: Julie Lemberger

           
In 1974, she embarked upon the first of many trips to Bali, Indonesia before running water, electricity and paved roads were introduced throughout the  island.  In Bali, she studied with prominent master dance teachers Bapak Kakul and I. Made Jimat from Batuan, Tutur from Petulu Ubud and A. A. Gde Breset from Mas Ubud, Agung Rai and others.  She excelled in the challenging male dance roles of Baris (warrior), as well as the masked roles of the demonic trickster, Jauk, and the elegant Dalem (king) characters.

During a sabbatical in 1976, she lived in Bali and undertook an extensive study of the culture.  While on this life changing visit, she became the adoptive godmother to Balinese child dancer, A. A. Gde Anom Putra (Anom), now the artistic director of the acclaimed gamelan ensemble Sanggar Semara Ratih of Ubud, Bali.

Joining Dance and Movement Research

At Lehman College, she developed Pinder fundamentals, a systematic instructional method created to teach and present Balinese dance to Western students.  She received numerous research awards from the PSC-CUNY Research Award Program for her groundbreaking study, Movement Patterns Seen in Balinese Mothers and Babies and Balinese Dance, using the Kestenberg Movement Profile (KMP), a psycho-analytical system of movement analysis. Other KMP investigation conducted by Islene included an examination of the the Balinese iconic dance, Baris, and an analysis of the fundamental qualities of Baroque dance.

Balinese Life, Dance Filmmaker

For 37 years, Pinder documented on film and video some of Bali’s greatest dancers and captured many of the culture’s daily rituals and important festivals.  Pinder’s movement analyst eye drew her to many unique, meaningful moments as a cultural anthropologist, rooted in a body-movement perspective.  Her own physical understanding of Balinese dance gave her deep insight and she compiled a comprehensive library of Balinese life and dance, culminating in the 45-minute video documentary, Isle of Bali, created specifically for educational purposes to teach students and people of all ages in school and college classrooms, lecture halls, libraries, museums, and community centers in the West.

BALAM Dance Theatre Founded

Pinder founded the non-profit dance company BALAM Dance Theatre in 1979 with the explicit goals of bringing the beauty and detailed skills of Balinese dance to the greater New York community and exploring the fusion of Balinese and contemporary dance styles.  Under her leadership, the company performed in Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, and the United States.

As the founding director of BALAM from its inception until her death, the company collaborated with the Sanggar Semara Ratih many times, touring throughout the remote villages of Bali, as well as participating in the Second International Dance Festival at Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia (STSI): College of the Performing Arts in Denpasar, Bali.  On BALAM’s Bali Tour 2010, Pinder returned to the stage in the comedic masked fantasy, Harlequin’s Charade, dancing excerpts that referenced her favorite traditional Balinese dance roles, Baris and Jauk.

Some of her enduring choreographic works include Night Shadow-A Balinese Dream, Vision of Sound, Bird Jauk, Gods Through a Temple, Memory, Fragrance and Pity.  Her eclectic vision received critical praise from the media with notable reviews in the New York Times, Dance Magazine, Village Voice, Bronx Times and many others.

A mentor for many generations of dancers  and artists, Pinder trained BALAM’s co-artistic director, choreographer and dancer Carlos Fittante.  Together they created BALAM’s signature work, Ramayana-Abduction of Sita, thrilling audiences with its fusion of Balinese, ballet, karate, Baroque and modern dance styles.  The Governor and people of Bali and the Indonesian Consulate of New York have highly commended this cross-cultural interpretation of a beloved Hindu myth.

Love of Dance Begins Early

Born Islene Gassman in Hoboken, New Jersey, Pinder lived a life of dance, study and creativity.  A dancer, choreographer and researcher of Balinese dance and culture, she received a master of arts degree from Teachers College, Columbia University and an undergraduate degree in physical education from New York University.  Other credentials garnered include certification in Effort-Shape, a system of movement pattern analysis, and intensive studies with Dr. Judith Kestenberg, the originator of the Kestenberg Movement Profile.             A dance lover from childhood, her dance studies included Martha Graham technique, ballet and Luigi Jazz in New York, where she studied with dance luminaries, such as Martha Graham, Louis Horst, Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey, Hanya Holm, José Limon, Walter Nicks and Luigi.  She worked briefly as a performance-synchronized swimmer in an aquatics show and a print model in Florida.