While a culture as vital and as lively as theirs has not remainedimmutable, there are clear indications that dance and drama have played a central role in Balinese life since time immemorial. Following the demise of Balinese kingdoms at the beginning of this century, the focus for all Balinese dance and drama shifted from the courts to the villages.
In Balinese dance a good deal of Indian influence is also evident. In fact the Balinese dancers of today resemble those decipted in ancient East javanese temple reliefs more than the court dancers of Java do. Balinese dance costumes, with their glittering head-dresses and elaborate jewellery, are clearly of Hindu-Javanese origin. And like his Javanese counterpart, the Balinese dancer adopts the basic “Indian” stance: kness bent, legs turned out, body straight, head tilted, with highly expressive hand gestures and a fluttering of the fingers.
In other respects, though, Balinese dance imparts a very different feeling. While the Javanese have developed slow, controlled, continuous movements performed with eyes downcast and limbs close to the body (in keeping with their aesthetic of refinement), the Balinese dancer is charged with energy, eyes agape, darting this way and that, high-stepping, arms up, moving with quick, cat-like bursts that would startle a Javanese.
All Balinese dancers are connected in some way with rituals, Temple festival in Bali always require a dancer or drama of some kind as entertainment for the gods (as well as for the participants). The Balinese, nevertheless, distinguish among those dances that are sacred (wali), ceremonial (bebali) and simpli for watching (bali-balihan). The last category of dances appears to have developed exclusively among the nobility, but they are no perfomed by village as part of a ceremonial repertoire.
The Legong Keraton (keraton means palace), for example, has ben the most popular dance in Bali since it was first performed in the village in the 1920s, Originally a court dance developed for royal amusement, it is now seen frequently village temple ceremonies throughout Bali and is becoming a big hit with the tourists. Traditionally, a Legong was performed by two very young girls, introduced by a court attendant (condong) who sweeps the stage clean and presents the dancers with fans. Sheathed in glittering gol cotumes, with headdresses crowned by frangipani blossoms, the two dancers the enact one of a dozen possible stories. Today, more than two women may perform the dance, and they neeh not be very young.
The Baris or warrios dances, on the other hand, seem to have developed out of old ritual battle dances. They are exciting to watch whirlwinds of music and action. The ancient Baris Gede is performed by groups of men who stand poised with lances or shields, eye wide, ready at any moment for the enemy’s advance. The popular solo Baris uses no weapons at all the intensity of the mivements serving to forcefully communicate self-confidence and mental control. A good Baris performance is a true test of wits for dancers and musicians, for they must respond to each other’s signals to produce the quivering bursts of synchronized ebergy that are the essence of the dance.
New dances are being created all the time. The powerful Kecak dance was adopted from the Sanghyang Dedari at the beginning of this century, by isolating the chorus of the latter and treating it as Hanuman’s monkey army in scenes from the Ramayana. Now performed by as many as a hundred chanting and swaying men dressed only in loincloths, the Kecak is by far Bali’s most popular tourist spectacle.
In the 1930s the legendary dancer and choreographer, I Nyoman Mario, introduced a dancer known as the Kebyar, based upon a new type of gamelan music (of the same name) that had appreared in North Bali around 1915. It is performed by a virtuoso soloist, using the upper parts of his body while in a sitting position to interpret the capricious moods of this scintillating music. Mario’s other creations include Oleg Tambulillingan, which depicts two bumblebees making love in garden of flowers!
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