Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
As part of a "People and Their Culture" series, the Smitsonian presented a troupe of dances and musicans from West Java Tuesday in a fascinating, two-fold program of martial arts (Penca) and masked solo dancing (Topeng Babakan). None of the performers, now on a transcontinental tour, has ever been seen outside their homeland before.
Penca, as a ritualization of self-defense, has obvious points of contract with other, more familiar Asian forms like karate and t'ai chi. The "combatants" assume a cocked stance with flexed knees and attack with lunges, whipped elbows, lightning kicks. Some dances imitate animals like the tiger or monkey, paired bouts can be improvised.
he large Javanese gong orchestra known as the Gamelan - whose exotic jangle opened the ears of Debussy and other Western composers ot a whole new world of sound nearly a century ago - takes part in the performance of the Topeng Babakan, the masked dance. The dance idiom is contained and subtle, involving turned-out legs, rolling arms and wrists, a tilted sway of the torso, and delicate head and neck movements.
The masks represent legendary firgures, and donning them, the dancers enact scenes from ancient Javanese lore - one of them Tuesday had all the earmarks of a showdown, "High Noon" style. Even so, the movements retained their sweetness and poise; this is an art in which style yields nothing to the Western penchant for realism - the style is the art.