More artists than Montmarter and the most glamourous traditional culture in the modern world, The magical middle kingdom is Bali’s most exotic and artistic region. Ever since the great Hindu – Balinese renaissance of the 17th century, the realm within a 15 km (nine miles) radius of the village of Ubud has been the centre for Bali’s arts.
The star villages of Singapadu, Batubulan and Batuan support a full spectrum of dance and drama groups, while Ubud and Mas have produced, over the last decade, enough master painters and sculptors to satisfy the next century of connoiseurs and collectors. Balinese lucky enough to be reborn (according to their belief) in this region are presented with numerous source of inspiration, and plenty of outlets for their considerable talents.
Leaving Denpasar and headling first east then north toward Ubud, the road climbs slowly, past bountiful rice fields and superornate temples, into villages where bright smiles and laughter are as universal as are the gentle tones of the gamelan.
The highway crosses the River Sasagan (the bounday between Badung and Gianyar districts) at Tohpati, and turns into the village of Batubulan. Though performed here daily before busloads of world weary tourists, the village’s Barong dance remains a great piece of professional theatre, and is an accurate synopsis of the morality play that is central to Balinese social education. Local folklore has it that the Barong loves to dance everyday, and can be heard rattling in protest whenever rain or lack of tourists forces a cancellation!.
Another more verifiable tale recounts the birth, in Batubulan, of the popular kecak dance. In 1982, German artist Walter Spies, and Baron von Messon, director of the first feature film on Bali, were watching a performance of the village’s Sanghyang Dedari trance dance, when a member of the male chours flew into a wild impromptu Baris dance.
Spies took the idea of a formal dance to the accompaniment of the chanting Sanghyang chorus, and together with authores Kathryn Myerson, fresh from the Martha Graham school in New York, created the Kecak for the Baron’s film.
Batubulan is also an area of beautiful temples. The soft soapstone quarried in nearby ravines is an ideal medium for Balinese stonecarves, who love to smother their temples and shrines in ornate carvings. Of particular note here is the Pura Puseh temple, a one minute walk from the main road. Etched into the massive tmple gate are the Hindu pantheon on one side and a meditating Buddha on the other.
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