Balinese Dance-Drama

>Bali has tremendous, almost magnetic aesthetic appeal for western visitors. Among the many art forms, Balinese dance is the most compelling. Perhaps it is better called dance/drama as it is an art that cannot be separated from theater (there is no Balinese word for theater).
Indigenous dance-drama is exotic, energetic, and visually sumptuous but its uniqueness lies in its accessibility. Balinese dance appeals to western aesthetic sensibilities and is therefore imminently engaging. While other Asian art forms are visually appealing, the observer quickly losses interest as the language barrier prevents much understanding. The Balinese version communicates in mime, gesture, and physically expressed emotion. The stories are easy to follow and enjoy in their entirety. Additionally, part of the appeal is its authenticity. Dance is not preserved strictly for tourist consumption but is closely connected with religion and the authentic rhythms of life on the island. Their traditions are relevant and give meaning to life. As Margaret Mead observed, “The survival of the primitive in a developed society, a characteristic of everything Balinese, shows itself in the dancing as well as in the general mode of life.” Another observer writes, “Next to having good orchestras, a fine group of dancers is an almost organic need for the spiritual and physical life of the community.”
The Balinese attribute a divine origin to music and dance. It is believed that Indra, Lord of Heaven, invented dance when he created the dedari (nymphs of heaven) to dance for the pleasure of the gods. Dance-drama evolved from sacred rituals (still performed at religious events). Dance movements are bound by ancient, elaborate design, recorded on lontars (oldest written records). There is a powerful connection between life and art. There are few professional dancers on Bali. Those who perform in tourist shows are the same who dance for religious festivals.
Balinese dance has developed to a standard of technique that makes it a difficult undertaking, requiring years of special training. Strict rules are followed leaving no room for improvisation or individual style. The excellence of a performer depends on personality, emotional intensity, and expressiveness of features - not skill. Female dancers always keep their feet on the ground, expressing themselves through a vocabulary of controlled movements of arms, wrists, fingers, neck, and eyes. Male dancers are more energetic, engaging in jumping, whirling, and wild waving of limbs.
The performances that travelers enjoy are often based on Hindu classics: Ramayana or Mahabharata. To watch Balinese dance is to enter a world of religious lore and epic poetry. It is a world of colors, beauty, and fascination: an unexplored territory of visual arts for the westerner. Classic performances travelers are likely to enjoy include the Ramayana (Hindu epic tale); Legong (most refined, elegant dance; the ultimate in feminine expression); Kecak (best known; percussive male chorus accompaniment to good vs. evil story); Barong (Lion Dance – good vs. evil fight between Rangda the witch queen and mythical beast Barong); and Baris (the warrior’s dance, celebrates the beauty of combat). On Imprint Tours’ Beautiful Bali tour we’ll be enjoying performances of the Kecak and Barong dances. Many other dances are performed and all are worthwhile. A visit to Bali is incomplete without a few evenings of dance-drama and for most, it is the signature experience.