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All About Bali Dance Dance & Drama No visitor to Bali should leave the island without first seeing some of its diverse dances and drama. An important part of Balinese culture, dance and drama are regarded as expressions of devotion to the gods and means of infusing the younger generation with old values. Most of today’s Balinese dances originate from Java, only a handful is indigenous dances such as rejang, baris and pendet. Historical records from the ninth century also named the wayang (Puppet Theater) and topeng (mask dance) as the main entertainment of the day. Javanese influences from Java started infiltrating into Bali in the 14th century when it was conquered by Gajah Mada, a power general of the Majapahit Empire. Court nobles and courtiers began to settle in Bali, bringing them with their dance and drama which was absorbed by the local populations. History of the Balinese Dance As a result of the Majapahit influences, the Indian epics have been woven in the rich tapestry of dances and the Javanese influence in the wayang has resulted in the recitation of long quotes from the ancient Javanese Kakawin poetry. The 16th century brought islamization to Java, resulting in much of the Javanese culture vanishing from its own land. However, it transformed in Bali, becoming classical Balinese culture. But this didn’t live too long until colonization. The rural courts were defeated and replaced with new lords of the land, shifting the center of creativity to village associations and to the development of tourism. The Balinese cultural dance was in its hype of activities especially during the 30’s and 50’s. The fertile decades helped survive the old narrative-led theater while letting loose solo dances almost everywhere, accompanied by a new, dynamic kind of music called gong kebyar. This trend continued in the 60’s and 70’s with the creation of colossal sendratari ballets, representing ancient Indian and Javanese stories adapted to the needs of modern audiences. Dance & Religion Dance in Bali are both secular and religious and divided into three types namely, wali, bebali and balih-balihan, depending on which part of the temple they are performed. Wali dances such as the baris gede and sang hyang are the most sacred and are performed in the inner sanctum of the temple. Ceremonial in nature, bebali dances take place in the middle courtyard. Bebali dances are secular and are usually performed in the outer courtyard of the temple. However, this distinction is not strictly adhered to and the time, place and occasion may dictate the performance of a particular dance. In Balinese society, therefore, dance performs many functions: a. As a channel for visiting gods or demonic gods, the dancer acting as a sort of living repository. These trance dances include the Sang Hyang Dedari, with little girls in trance and the Sang Hyang Jaran, a fire dance. b. As a welcome for visiting gods, such as the pendet, rejang and sutri dances.

c. As entertainment for visiting gods, such as the topeng and the wayang. In some of these dances, the role of dancing is so important that it is actually the key to any meaning to be found in the ritual. In wayang performances, the puppeteer is often seen as the ‘priest’ sanctifying the holy water. As well as their use in religious ceremonies, dance and drama also have a strong religious content. It is often said that drama is the preferred medium through which the Balinese cultural tradition is transmitted. The episodes performed are usually related to the rites taking places, during a wedding one performs a wedding story, at a death ritual there is a visit to ‘hell’ by the heroes. Clowns (penasar) comment in Balinese peppering their jokes with religious and moral comments on stories whose narratives use Kawi (Old Javanese). Movement and Dance Balance is important in Balinese dance. Normally, the dancer half bends her legs, shifts her torso to one side with the elbow raised and lowered in fluid movements to display the suppleness of her hands and fingers. Her torso is shifted in symmetry with the arms. If the arms are to the right, the shifting is to the left and vice-versa. Apart from their costumes, male and female roles can be identified mostly by the accentuation of these movements. The women’s legs are bent and huddled together, the feet open, so as to reveal a sensual arching of the back. The men’s legs are arched and their shoulders pulled up, with more marked gestures, giving the impression of power. Dance movements follow on from each other in continuum of gestures with no break and no jumping (except for a few demonic or animal characters). Each basic posture (agem), such as the opening of the curtain or the holding of the cloth, evolves into another agem through a succession of secondary gestures or tandang. The progression from one series to the other and the change from left to right and vice-versa, is marked by a short jerky emphasis called the angsel. The expression is completed by mimicry of the face, the tangkep. Even the eyes dance, as can be seen in the baris and trunajaya dances. The Dances of Bali The Kecak “Cak-cak-cak”. This obsessive sound (resembling the chattering of monkeys) of a choir from beyond the dust of ages suddenly rises between the lofty trees. Darkness looms over the stage. Hundreds of bare-breasted men sit in a circle around the flickering light of an oil lamp chandelier. “Cak-Cak”. They start dancing to the rhythmic sound of their own voices, their hands raised to the sky and bodies shaking in unison. This is the unique Kecak, commonly called the “Monkey Dance” by tourists. Originally the kecak was just an element of the older Sang Hyang trance dance. It consisted of a male choir praying obsessively to the souls of their ancestors. At the initiative of painter Walter Spies, this religious choir was transformed into a dance by providing it with a narrative. The ballet is the Ramayana epic. The prince Rama, his wife Sita and his brother Laksmana are exiled in the middle of the forest. Rama goes hunting a golden deer at the request of his wife, who saw the strange animal and has asked him to catch it. While he is away, she is kidnapped by Rahwana and taken to the latter’s island kingdom of Alengka (Srilangka). Rama allies himself with the monkeys and in particular with the white monkey Hanuman. They build a bridge and cross to the island. War ensues until finally Rama defeats Rahwana and is again united with his faithful wife.

The Barong The Barong is the magical protector of Balinese villages. As ‘lord of the forest’ with fantastic fanged mask and long mane, he is the opponent of Rangda the witch, who rules over the spirits of darkness, in the never ending fight between good and evil. During the Galungan Kuningan festivals, the Barong (there are many types including barong ket, barong macan and barong bangkal) wanders from door to door (nglawang) cleansing the territory of evil influences. The fight between Barong and Rangda is also the topic of traditional narratives, usually performed in the temple of the dead. The most famous is the story of Calonarang, a widow from Jirah who is furious because she can not find a suitable husband for her daughter Ratna Manggali. All the eligible young men are scared of her black magic, so she gets revenge by wreaking havoc over the kingdom of Daha. The king, Erlangga, tries to punish her but all his attempts fail. She kills all the soldiers he sends to destroy her. Then Rangda decides to destroy Daha. She summons all her disciples and in the still of night they go to the Setra Gandamayu cemetery to present offerings of dead flesh to Durga, the goddess of death. Durga agrees to the destruction, although she warns the witch not to enter the city of Daha. But the witch does not heed Durga’s advice and the kingdom is soon hit by grubug (a plague) and the villages quickly become cemeteries, people dying even before they can bury their dead. Corpses are scattered everywhere and the stench is unbearable. The only person who can defeat the witch is Mpu Baradah. At the king’s request, Mpu Baradah sends his disciple Bahula to steal Calonarang’s magic weapon. Bahula pretends to ask for Ratna Manggali’s hand in marriage and while the witch is away, Bahula steals the magic weapon with the help of Ratna Manggali. Then he gives the stolen weapon to his teacher Mpu Baradah. The weapon turns out to be a manuscript containing the key to ultimate release (moksa) which has been used upside down by Calonarang. Bharadah goes to Daha to challenge the witch. With the help of the Barong, she is defeated. Before being killed, she asks to be released from her curse and purified. The Legong Kraton The famous Legong Dance is the epitome of classical female Balinese dancing. A court dance, it was created in the 18th century in the circles of the principality of Sukawati. According to legend, in the mid-18th century, I Dewa Agung Made Karna who was meditating for 40 days and nights saw two dancing celestial angles. After his meditations he passed on what he had seen and heard to his court dancers and musicians. The Sanghyang Legong was born. Now including a variety of modern ‘free creations’ (tari lepas), the legong is usually the first dance taught to beginners, Months of training are needed to master the perfect mix of posture (tangkep), movements and mimicry. Three dancers in glittering costumes, one condong lady-in-waiting and two princesses whose roles change according to the narrative usually perform it. The ancient legong used to have a storyteller’s accompaniment, but these days they only dance performances. The Gambuh The Gambuh is the oldest classical dance in Bali, probably introduced at the time of the Majapahit culture. At a hauntingly slow tempo, the gambuh dance drama tells episodes from the story of Panji’s search for his beloved in the kingdoms of Eastern Java. Now retained in only a few villages (notably Batuan and Pedungan), the gambuh combines

the best of both female and male Balinese dancing. An unusual feature is the use of long bamboo flutes instead of the complete set of gamelan and gongs. The Topeng Mask ‘Topeng’ means mask and the mask dance relates the tales of Balinese and Javanese ancestors returning temporarily to inhabit the mask. Nowadays, the main stories with their princes and clowns are preceded by set of solo mask dances of the ‘strong warrior’, the ‘topeng tua’ – a fantastic dance showing the advance of old age in the king’s old counselor, and the ‘topeng dalem’ – showing the king in all his glory with enough clowns to fill a circus. Pendet & Penyembrama These dances are performed to welcome visiting Gods, who are presented with offerings of flowers. Nowadays tourists are also showered with flowers. The Kebyar The renewal of the arts during the 30’s saw a surge in dance creativity, producing dances that are still the most popular in Bali, short but spectacular non-narrative dances inspired by the dynamism of the gong kebyar, a gamelan orchestra originating from Northern Bali. The most famous are the kebyar duduk and kebyar trompong. These two dances were created by Mario, a Balinese dance genius from this century. They are displays of suppleness and virtuosity, particularly the kebyar trompong, with the dancer playing the trompong instrument while dancing. The Joged The Joged Bumbung is one of the few exclusively secular dances of Bali in which the brightly dressed dancer invites men from the crowd to dance with her in a pretence of seduction. The music is made with bumbung (bamboo) instruments. This dance is very popular with tourists. The dance begins with a long opening sequence by the female dancer. Then, long shawl in her hand, she selects a man from the audience by either pointing with her fan or touching his waist. He (the pengibing) comes on stage to hoots from the audience and is expected to be as adept at teasing as the woman dancer. The beter he is, the louder the cheers and roars from the crowd. He may try to pinch her, dance hip to hip with her or even behave like an angry lover and try to hit her. The Wayang The wayang puppet show is perhaps the most famous show in Balinese theatre, albeit the most difficult to understand. Basically an epic narrative, it is the key to Bali’s unique world of myths, symbols and religious beliefs. The puppet master or dalang tells his story by projecting the shadows of the puppets he manipulates behind a white screen and a large lamp. He plays several characters at once, shifting from Old-Javanese to High-Balinese, singing and hitting a box to mark the rhythm. A good dalang is a one-man-show, being in turns smart, funny and melancholic. The dalang borrows the frame of his narrative from the great epics of the Indo-Javanese tradition, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, although other stories may sometimes be

used. He then creates his own episodes, usually concerning a hero’s quest for a magical weapon, heavenly secret or partner. The hero, accompanied by buffoons, succeeds eventually after tortuous adventures in the wilderness and fights with evil giants. The two sets of puppets – the heroes on the right, villains on the left – symbolize the eternal struggle between good and evil. But for the audience, the dalang’s ability to poke fun at everyone through the mouths of the buffoons is no less important than the narrative. Other Dances The arja opera : a classical dance with stories from the pre-Majapahit era. The baris : a young warrior’s dance performed by young male dancers The baris gede : two warrior groups with long spears attack each other. The jauk : a monster with long nails goes through both joy and sadness. The Sang Hyang Dedari : young girls go into trances on the shoulder of older men, part of a ceremony welcoming the gods. The Sang Hyang Jaran : men trample on burning embers while ‘riding’ brooms in this fire dance. The Wayang Wong : a Ramayana dance using ancient mask.

Bali dance and drama  
Bali dance and drama  

About Bali dance and drama