Dancing History, Dancing Memory, Dancing A Prayer

The entrance to the Water Palace was ablaze with light. Instruments of the gamelan glowed golden as they awaited the evening performance.

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We had been accosted by a man in a checkerboard sarong as we hurried toward the venue along Jl. Raya. “You see Lagong Dance at Royal Palace? You buy ticket from me. Only 80,000 rupiah.” I told him we were going to the Water Palace to see Gamelan, not the Royal Palace for Legong. “Yes, you go to Water Palace, Gamelan, you buy ticket from me, 80,000 rupiah.” He was walking sideways, ahead of us, earnestly explaining that the price was the same for us whether we bought tickets from him or at the gate. If we bought from him he would get commission.  There are many ways to make a buck in Bali, and that’s about what he made when we gave him our business.

Passing through the gate we strolled a pebbled walkway between two lotus filled pools and found a seat a few feet from the entrance to the palace. The air, heavy and moist, threatened rain. Those seated near us were speculating on the likelihood of that happening when the musicians filed in and took their places. There is a relaxed informality inherent in the Balinese alongside a dignified grace. The woman on the right checked her glasses, decided they were adequately clean, and repositioned them on her face. When all were seated a joyous and resounding instrumental introduction welcomed us to the performance.

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Gamelan is distinctly Indonesian. It is meant to be played outdoors. As one writer described it, “The open walls allow for the music to flow out into the community where the rest of the people may enjoy it. Inside closed rooms Balinese gamelan is inaudible and it easily trespasses the threshold of pain.” I have experienced it both ways and wholeheartedly agree that it must be played outdoors.

The instrumental introduction was followed by Puspa Wresti derived from the ceremonial Pendet dance. Young girls with bodies undulating disciplined and slow, shower the stage and the audience with flower petals. The flower offerings purify the temple or theater as a prelude to ceremonies. It is a ritual of welcome inviting the audience, and the spirits, to enjoy the delights of the performance. 

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The costumes, makeup, and artistry of the dancers held us entranced.
The movements of their hands and feet, arms and torsos, necks and heads, and even their eyes, were precise and provocative.
 

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The beautiful Bird of Paradise dance, Cendrawasih, followed. The complex choreography is designed to portray the arrogance of this magnificent creature, and the costuming reflects its glorious plummage. This sweet bird moved too quickly for the night setting on my camera to do it justice!

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No performance would be complete without the fierce Baris, glorifying the manhood of the triumphant Balinese warrior. The dance depicts the courage of a hero who is going to war. Once again the careful positioning of the feet, the impossible angles of the fingers, and the whites of the eyes tell the story.

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After the intense scariness of the Baris, it was time for the children to perform Kelinci, the Rabbit Dance! They came bouncing out all in white satin and floppy ears looking adorable. And they continued to bounce and playfully bat at each other executing their antics in orchestrated unison.

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Each performance was more exotic and technically brilliant than the one before. But at the end of the night I had a distinct favorite. The Panji Semirang tells the story of a young princess. When her husband marries another woman, the princess cuts her hair and changes her clothes pretending to be a man. She moves to the forrest with her servants. Granted, the Balinese men are gorgeous, but I don’t think anyone is going to mistake these beauties for handsome gents!

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Throughout the evening a light mist hung in the air, but no one noticed. The magic of sumptuous fabrics, intricate movements, and melodious gamelan kept us spellbound. These ancient stories have been danced for centuries, but they are more than mere entertainment. Woven into the artistry is a thread of reverent awe.  The performers are dancing history, and memory, and perhaps even prayer.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nancy leatzow
    Jan 17, 2013 @ 16:42:01

    Your words beautifully capture the magic of this magical evening!

    Like

    Reply

  2. johncoyote
    Jan 21, 2013 @ 08:00:10

    Thank you for the beautiful photos and description. Dancing is the last freedom no-one can take from us.

    Like

    Reply

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