Balinese Dances

The very essence of Balinese culture is dance and drama, which is performed during temple festivals and ceremonies. Every movement of fingers, hands, head, body and feet is important and tells the story of the Balinese vision of life. Balinese dance cannot be separated from religion. Even the dances for the tourists are preceded by many dancers praying at their family shrine for taksu (inspiration) from the gods.Tickets are widely available on the streets of Ubud especially at Monkey Forest Road and around the Central Market. The most popular dances are the Kecak, Barong and Legong.

No other dance is so unnerving as the amazing Kecak, also known as the ‘’monkey dance’’. This dance is to protect the village of dark powers and is often performed when things go bad and to prevent more misfortune. A serpentine stream of bodies coils itself, circle within a circle, around a large, branching torch. Two hemispheres of men: one, a pattern of silhouettes; the other, sculptural faces of brown skin caught in a net of torchlight.

Kecak, a name indicating the “chak-a-chak” sounds, evolved from the male chorus of the ritual Sanghyang trance ceremony. By ingeniously simple choreography, the chorus is transfigured into ecstasy. Kecak include a drama, in which the circle of light around the torch becomes a stage, and it’s a periphery of men, a living theatre with dramatic effects. Accompanied by the bizarre music of human instruments, the storyteller relates the episode enacted within the performance, usually one drawn from the Ramayana. At the end of the Ramayana story one man is in a trance. He performs the trance dance and rides on a wooden horse kicking burning coconut shells around.At the end of the dance a priest helps him to come out of the trance and the performance ends.

If black magic prevails, a village fails into danger, and extensive purification ceremonies become necessary to restore a proper equilibrium for the health of the community. Dramatic art is also a way of cleansing the village by strengthening its resistance to harmful forces through offerings, prayers and acts of exorcism. Such is the symbolic play of the two remarkable presences-the Barong and Rangda. Barong, a mystical creature with a long swayback and curved tail, represents the affirmative, the protector of mankind, the glory of the high sun, and the favorable spirits associated with the right and white magic.

This Bali dance of Legong (balih-balihan dance) is without any doubt the most gracious of all the dances. The dance is accompanied by the beautiful sounds of the gamelan.The Legong dancers are often young girls around 8 to 10 years old and selected from the village for their beauty and suppleness. They are wearing identical costumes with tightly bound gold brocades and their faces are made up with detail to the eyebrows and their hair decorated with beautiful frangipani flowers. Their movements are choreographed in detail with the twisting of the fingers, hands, feet and facial expression.

The Legong Kraton tells the story of a king, who kidnaps a maiden called Rangkesari. Her brother begs the king to let her free rather than to go to war. The king ignores his begging and is on his way to the battleground when he meets a bird that brings ill omens. He ignores the bird and continues to meet Rangkesari’s brother on the battleground, who kills him.

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