Balinese dance culture incorporates ancient Hindu traditions with drama that tell stories through dance and music and part of the religious and artistic expression among the Balinese people of Bali island
Balinese dances are very unique and magnificently performed. Baris dance is renowned as one of the most multifaceted Balinese dances. Baris is a warrior’s dance which is performed solo and it needs immense power, strength and expertise. Apart from that, Legong Keraton dance is popular as the most refined amongst the other Balinese dances. This dance is the essence of classical Balinese female dancing and it requires three dancers. Last but not least, the Barong dance is performed by two men presenting playful movements in order to utter its high-spirited nature.
The Welcome Dance – Tari Panyembrama
The Panyembrama is probably the most popular Balinese social dance. In keeping with its meaning in the Balinese Language, Panymebrama is frequently staged to welcome guests of honour who are making a visit to this islands of the Gods.
Four or eight young girls bearing a bokor, a heavily engraved bowl made from silver or aluminium, laden with flowers, dance expressively to the accompaniment of vibrant gamelan music.
During the dance, the flowers are scattered over the guest or audience as an expression of welcome. The Panyembrama has taken many of its movements from temple dances, such as the Rejang Dance, Pendet and Gabor, which are considered sacred and performed exclusively for God. There is an analogy between the secular Panyembrama and the religious temple dances, as all these dances are welcoming dances, the difference being in the place in which they are stage.
The Tari Panymebrama comes under the Balinese classification of Legong (individual dances), because it has no connection with other dances, has no story and was specifically created for welcoming and entertainment purposes. The hospitality and friendliness conveyed through the smiles of the Panyembrama girls, charms the audience and so is very fitting as an opening for a show, etc.
The Barong Dance
The are several versions of the Barong Dance, as Bali has an abundance of myths and legends. There is Barong Ket, Barong Asu (Dog Barong), Barong Macan (Tiger Barong), Barong Bangkal (Pig Barong), Barong Gajah (Elephant Barong) and others. One of the well known stories on which the Barong Dance is based, is the Kunti Seraya. The plot is very intriguing, showing the effect of the Gods intervention upon the people through supernatural powers.
It is told that Dewi Kunti, from the royal family of Hastinapura, was very ill. As a devotee of the Goddess Durga, she seeks help, however, the Goddess tells her that the price of health is her own son, Sahadewa. It seems that the Goddess fancied Sahadewa’s young and luscious flesh for her dinner.
Dewi Kunta recovers from her illness and it is time to pay the price. She regrets her decision to pay the price but a promise is a promise. One of the Goddess’s followers put her into a trance and enters her body. She becomes a terrifying creature and unconsciously beats Sahadewa mercilessly. She then takes him to an unpenetratable jungle and ties him to a tree. Later Sahadewa is given immortality by God and she overcomes the wrath of the Goddess and she is able to release her son.
The Sanghyang Jaran Dance
The unique feature of the Sanghyang Jaran dance is the courage of the dancers who in a state of Kesurupan or trance, calmly step and trample on red hot coals just as if they were walking in cold water.
This dance is believed to have the power to invite the gods or sacred spirits to enter the body of the dancers and put them in a state of trance. It dates back to the ancient Pre-Hindu culture, a time when the Balinese people strongly believed that a dance could eliminate sickness and disease.
The is dance is usually performed in the fifth or sixth month of the Balinese traditional calendar as it is believe that during these particular months, the Balinese are vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses.
“Cak-cak-cak.” The obsessive sound 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, perhaps the most popular of all Balinese dances.
Visitors rarely leave the island of Bali without first seeing a Kecak performance. 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.
Topeng the word Topeng means ‘pressed against the face’, as with a mask. This is a mask dance where the dancers have to imitate the character their mask indicates they are playing. The Topeng Tua, for example, is a classic solo dance where the mask is that of an old man and requires the performer to dance like a creaky old gentleman. In other dances there may be a small troupe who dances various characters and types. A full collection of Topeng masks may number 30 or 40.
Another mask dance is the Jauk dance, but this is strictly a solo performance. The dancer plays an evil demon, his mask an eerie face with bulging eyes and fixed smile, long wavering fingernails complete the demonic look. Mask dances require great expertise because the dancer is not able to convey the character’s thoughts and meanings though his facial expressions, so the character of the unpleasant, frenetic, fast-moving demon has to be conveyed entirely through the dance.
Legong this is the most graceful of Balinese dances and to sophisticated Balinese connoisseurs of dancing the one of most interest. A Legong Dance, as a Legong Dancer is always know, is a young girl – often as young as eight or nine years olds and older than her early teens. Such importance is attached to the dance that even in old age a classic dancer will be remembered as a ‘great Legong’ even though her brief period of fame may have been 50 years ago.
There are various forms of Legong but the Legong Kraton, or Legong of the palace, is the one most usually performed. Peliatan’s famous dance troupe, which visitor to Ubud often gets a chance to see, is particularly noted for its Legong. A performance involves just three dancers – the two Legongs and their ‘attendant’ knows as the condong.
The Legongs are identically dressed in tightly bound gold brocade, so tightly are they encased that it’s something of a mystery how they manage to move with such agility and speed. Their faces are elaborately made up, their eyebrows plucked and repainted and their hair decorated with frangipanis.
It’s a very stylized and symbolic dance – if you didn’t know the story it would be impossible to tell what was going on. The dance relates how a king takes a maiden, Rangkesari, captive. When Rangkesari’s brother comes to release her he begs the king to let her free rather than go to war. The king refuses and on his way to the battle meets a bird bringing ill omens. He ignores the bird and continues on to meet Rangkesari’s brother who kills him.
The dance however, only related the lead-up to the battle and ends with the bird’s appearance. When the king leaves the stage he is going to the battle that will end in his death.
The dance starts with the condong dancing an introduction. The condong departs as the Legong come on. The Legongs dance solo, in close identical formation, and even in mirror image when they dance a nose to nose love scene. They relate the king’s sad departure from his queen, Rangkesari’s request that he release her and the king’s depature for the battle. Finally the condong reappears with tiny golden wings as the bird of ill fortune and dance comes to an end.
The War Dance – Gebug Ende
The Gebug Ende is a combination of dance and trial of prowess. It is usually performed by two to sixty male dancers who dance and fight on stage in pairs. Each dancer/fighter carries a one and a half metre long rattan stick as as a weapon and a shield called an ende.
During the performance the two men try to beat one another with the stick while using the ende to protect themselves. The dance is called Gebug Ende as it literally means beating the ende or shield. One cannot afford to make mistakes in this dance as otherwise injury results.
The Gebug Ende is quite unique as it has certain rules that have to be followed by the participants. Led by a jury, this dance starts with two dancers, while the rest sit in a circle, cracking jokes and singing, while waiting their turn. The jury decide which of the two contestants loses the game and has to leave the stage. Then they will call the next men to the stage.
This continues until all have had a turn. Sometimes the fight becomes very fierce and the dancers get thrown of the stage from the blows of the rattan stick. Bruises and wounds are common in this ritual.