Bali Music & Dance

Theater and dance is an integral part of Balinese culture. Balinese dances are famous all over the world and the Balinese themselves take them very seriously. Birthdays, weddings, and temples festivals are all occasions for dramatic performances and dance is inextricably linked with the Balinese religion.

The lifestyle of Balinese people is expressed in their dance. Not only do we learn about the Balinese religion from their dance creations but also we can come to understand the flow of cultural events and activities that belong to everyday life. We can discover Balinese attitudes, how they look at nature, and how they regard their fauna and flora.

The commercial performances for tourists that are today offered on a daily basis in several places of Bali do, of course, not have the same religious significance and atmosphere of a dance that is performed at a real temple festival.

The very essence of the Balinese culture is dance and drama, which is performed during temple festivals and in ceremonies. The dances performed in hotels are a small fraction of what Balinese dance has to offer.

About Balinese Theatre and Dance

Balinese theatre and dance are intimately linked. Indeed Balinese use the same word – sesolahan – for both. Until the conquest of Bali in the early twentieth century and the arrival of Europeans, almost all performance was dramatical, often involving a combination of dance, singing and acting that went on all night, and drawing upon a vast literary canon which included Indian and Indonesian epics and stories from elsewhere. Europeans however wanted short attractive pieces without narrative or dialogue that required no cultural background or understanding. So Balinese distilled pure dance from the existing theatrical and religious performance, and choreographed entirely new pieces – so creating one of the world’s most vibrant and spectacular virtuoso dance repertoires.

Although now virtuoso dance is widely taught at the national conservatoires, it is the many genres of theater that Balinese themselves watch. And many of the great dancers come from a theatrical background, most notably Arja, Balinese dance-opera which is exceptionally demanding as it requires performers to be first class singers and actors as well as dancers. While it little known outside Bali, it is theater which provides the vast and dynamic reservoir of talent and ideas which drives Balinese performance as a whole.

The range of theater or drama genres in Bali is remarkable. Perhaps the best known is shadow theatre, Wayang Kulit, which usually draws upon the Indian epic, the Mahabharata. Among the older forms are Gambuh, plays with chanting set to music using distinctive long flutes; and Wayang Wong, masked drama drawing upon the Ramayana. There are also various forms of Topèng, masked theater, which use a wide range of literary sources. Of a more religious nature, Calonarang stories are used in temples and at times of public danger or pestilence. Among Balinese audiences though three genres are widely popular. The most long-lasting has been Arja, dance-opera or sung dance-drama, noted for its arias sung in a range of classical metres with unique haunting tones. Arja is highly versatile and can draw upon classical texts, popular stories or even Greek tragedy. Drama Gong is popular theatre in colloquial Balinese which sprang up in the late 1960s. The most spectacular form, also dating from the 1960s, is Sendratari, mass ballet, suited for large stages with big casts who mime movements to dialogue by a dalang, or ‘puppeteer’. Although often danced to big gamelan (orchestras), Sendratari may equally use Kècak, Balinese interlocking vocal chant.

Balinese Dances


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.

During the dance, the flowers are scattered over the guest or audience as an expression of welcome. The Panymebrama 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 Panymebrama and the religious temple dances, as all these dances are welcoming dances, the difference being in the place in which they are stage.

Kecak Dance

Of all the dances seen on Bali today, the Kecak dance is perhaps the most dramatic. Taken from the Hindu epic Ramayana, the dance tells the story of Prince Rama and his rescue of Princess Sita, who has been kidnapped by the evil King of Lanka. Unlike other dances, there is no gamelan orchestra accompanying it. Instead, a troupe of over 150 bare-chested men serve as the chorus, making a wondrous cacophany of synchronized “chak-achak-achak” clicking sounds while swaying their bodies and waving their hands.

Barong Dance

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 mea 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 swaybackand curved tail, represents the affirmative, the protector of mankind, the glory of the high sun, and the lavorable spirits associated with the right and.white magic.

Kebyar Dance

The Kebyar Dance is a male solo dance like the Baris. There are various forms of Kebyar including the Kebyar Duduk and Kebyar Trompong. In Kebyar, the accent is upon the dancer himself, who interprets every nuance of the music in powerful facial expressions and movement.

The most popular form of Kebyar in South Bali is Kebyar Duduk, the “seated” Kebyar, where the dancer sits cross-legged throughout most of the dance. By de-empasizing the legs and decreasing the space to a small sphere, the relation between dancer and gamelan is intensified. The dance is concentrated in the flexibility of the wrist and elbow, the magnetic power of the face, and the suppleness of the torso. The music seems infused in the dancer’s body.

The Yudapati Dance

Yudapati is a dance which depicts a male character but is performed by female dancers. The word Yudapati is derived from Yuda which means war and Pati which means death. The dance represents the kamikaze warrior in defending the truth. The dance was created in 1987. It is based on the Baris dance.

The dancer wears typical male attire, headcloth, shirt, carved leather belt and other jewellery. The reason for a male being performed by a female is that the choreographer wishes to reveal all the subtle gestures and movements in the dance by using the flexibility of a woman’s body.

Legong Keraton

In legends, Legong is the heavenly dance of divine nymphs. Of all classical Balinese dances, it remains the quintessence of femininity and grace. Girls from the age of five aspire to be selected to represent the community as Legong dancers.

Connoisseurs hold the dance in highest esteem and spend hours discussing the merits of various Legong groups. The most popular of Legongs is the Legong Kraton, Legong of the palace. Formerly, the dance was patronized by local rajas and held in e puri, residence of the royal family of the village. Dancers were recruited from the aptest and prettiest children. Today, the trained dancers are still- very young; a girl of fourteen approaches the age of retirement as a Legong performer.

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.

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.

Legong Trunajaya – The dance of love and emotions

The Trunajaya dance describes the feelings of a younger man via love and passion. The dance actions mirror the theme of courtship and love.

Truna which means ‘single’ and jaya which means ‘to win’ immediately provides an understanding of the dance. Mockingly, the dancer are young girls who tackle the function of younger men. The ladies put on a ‘destar’ normally worn by males and an uncommon loin-fabric known as a ‘kancut’. The Trunajaya is often danced by a single female however sometimes two, dancing together in synchronous actions and to the mesmorotic sounds of the ‘Gong Kebyar’, a fast, rhythmic beat which goes in concord to the dance. The dance was created by Wayan Wandres, from Singaraja, Northern Bali.

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