15 June 2016

Must-See Traditional Dances in Bali

For the deeply spiritual Balinese, performance is more than just an artistic expression; it is also an ancient form of spiritual and religious worship. The tales of Balinese Culture are often told through dance and other performances. In Bali, traditional dances are divided into two types: sacred dances called Wali and entertainment dances called Bebalihan. Wali is often performed during religious events while Bebalihan is a staple in social events.

The Sanghyang Jaran dance is a religious performance that originated in Bona village. Initially, the dance was strictly performed during religious events as protection from natural disasters and diseases. The origin of the dance is told in a folk story wherein villagers rushed to Puseh temple in prayer to protect the community from disease. Legend has it that Lord Vishnu himself possessed two girls, instructing the villagers to play musical instruments while dancing. Because the villagers did not bring any musical instruments, they started singing prayers instead. The dance is quite interesting because the dancers – appearing to be in a trance-like state – perform amazing feats like walking on hot coals or piercing themselves with daggers without getting hurt.

Pendet Dance is a type of dance that serves as an introduction to other traditional dances. The performers are typically young women who imitate the movements of older women. This elaborate show of mimicry symbolizes the importance of setting a good example to the younger generation. Initially performed in temples, this ritual dance is now performed as a greeting, welcoming spirits and audiences alike to enjoy the show. The Balinese believe this dance purifies the stage and temple in preparation for other performances. Pendet is often the first dance young girls learn.

Oleg Tambulilingan. Also known as the Bumblebee Dance, the Oleg Tambulilingan is a stunning show of the bumblebees’ mating ritual. The performance involves two costumed dancers – a male and one or two female dancers – performing very complex movements that symbolize the courtship of the female bumblebee. Wearing tightly bound sarong, the female dancer/s maintain a posture where they keep their feet together while slightly bending forward and moving their arms at right angles. As for the male performer, the movements are more aggressive with a wider stance. Initially, the female bumblebee will coyly rebuff the male bumblebee’s advances but in the end, the courtship is a success!  The Oleg Tambulilingan is performed during special occasions such as the Kuta Karnival.

Topeng Dance is a dramatic Indonesian dance commonly performed in Bali and Java. Topeng literally translates to “mask,” and yes, the costumed dancers wear elaborate masks throughout the colorful performance. Topeng dance is typically accompanied by a gamelan orchestra. Non-speaking masks narrate the story of fabled kings, and heroes that may or may not be relevant to the story being performed. Usually, the story features several comical characters that break western conventions of storytelling to get the audience roaring with laughter!

Mahabharata is a dance performance that narrates the story of a Hindu epic through intricate finger and feet movements as well as intense facial expressions. This form of storytelling is based on Legong, a refined dance form that features complex body movements and exaggerated facial expressions to convey a tale. Mahabharata tells the story of two branches of a royal family so expect showstopping costumes and lots of drama and action!

Kecak. A trip to Bali is not complete without watching a kecak dance! Kecak is a fire and trance dance developed in the 1930s. This traditional dance was based on the older Sang Hyang trance dance, which features a narrative of the Ramayana epic. The performance brings together music, drama, and stunning fire dance in one breathtaking performance. This dance features a group of male performers wearing checked cloths around the waist. The dancers start the show by chanting “cak” while moving the hands and arms to depict he battle from the Ramayana. Swaying to the beat, the dancers wow the audience with trance-inducing exorcism dance and fire spectacles.

Wayang Kulit. This performance involves leather puppets manipulated to retell the stories of Hindu epics in the glow of candlelight. A traditional Gamelan orchestra accompanies the performance. A puppeteer called a Dalang manipulates the puppets behind a cotton or linen screen. The Dalang does everything from moving the puppets to lending his voice for the narrative and special effects. Wayang Kulit’s roots can be traced to a Javanese Hindu-Buddhist tradition of using handmade leather puppets to narrate stories of fabled gods and spirits. This entertaining shadow play is performed across the Indomalayan archipelago.

The Barong Dance features the mythological story of Barong, a lion-like lord of the forest that protects the land and its people, and Ranga a demonic witch bent on destroying all that is good. The performance involves numerous men wielding asymmetrical daggers called a kris as well as masked performers locked in a dramatic battle between good and evil. In the story, the only person who can defeat the witch is Mpu Bharadah. Mpu Bharadah teams up with Barong to lead a war against the witch. The Barong and Kris Dance is performed during the temple of the dead. Once defeated, the witch is killed and her spirit released from a curse.

The Ramayana Ballet narrates the Ramayana saga using modern dance forms, beautiful costumes, and a large Gong Kebyar orchestra. The story brings together a stunning show of dialogue-less drama, dance, and epic tales of duties of relationships. If you are interested in catching the show, we recommend watching the performance in Ubud at the palace or Saraswati Temple.

The Balinese love drama. Their performances tell traditional tales bursting with color and music. Don’t miss some of these fabulous shows of Balinese Culture.

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