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Unusual melodies awaken you from your thoughts. Sounds that seem slightly disruptive, like speedy drivers on a silent road, suddenly envelop you. You might not know what to think of this music that´s at once exotic and bewitching.
Balinese performance art: Gamelan sounds and beauty abound
What you do know is that you simply can´t help but be intrigued by it all: the all-male Gamelan orchestra which elicits the traditional Indonesian sounds from xylophones, drums, gongs, and other percussive instruments. The stunning backdrop of the performance stage, with its intricately ornated angkul-angkul traditional gate and guardian statues. The gorgeous Balinese dancers, expressing the depth and versatility of their cultural stories and myths with such passion and precision.
There is grace in their movements, there is a pure embodiment of all that´s good, enticing and seductive about the Balinese culture. Theirs is the perfect blend of spirituality and sensuality, always offered up to the higher realms they so believe in.
The accompanying Gamelan-music roots´ lie in an even older past than the Hindu-Buddhist origins of Balinese faith. They are a mesmerizing remnant of indigenous art forms that dominated the cultural expressions of Indonesia during its earliest records.
Barong and Legong Dance at Ubud royal palace: An artistic battleground
To get a taste of this very particular cultural phenomenon, head to Ubud royal palace at about 6:45 Pm as each night starting at 7:30 PM there´ll be a variety of rich dances shown there. The royal palace, known as Puri Saren Palace to the locals, is one of Ubud´s cultural hot-spots located along the town´s bustling main road Jalan Raya Ubud. The performances being shown there include Barong Dance, Mahabharata and Legong Dance… take your pick and expect to be wowed. To help you figure out which dance performance you might be most drawn to, here a little insight into two typical types of Balinese dance:
The Barong Dance is where Barong, a creature akin to a lion in the mythology of Bali, meets Rangda, badass-demon queen and mother of all spirit guarders. Sounds a bit like Game of Thrones, doesn´t it? Well, it´s not entirely the same, but there is an epic battle to behold, a war between good, mirrored in Barong, the king of the spirits, and evil, in the form of Rangda. I could go on a slightly feminist rant here due to “good” appearing in the form of a male figure and “bad” personified in a female. But fear not, I won´t. The dance is still an amazing sight to be enjoyed, after all!
The Legong Dance, traditionally performed by girls who have not reached puberty, enacts different traditional tales, one of them telling the story of the King of Lasem, a true heroic romance. Interestingly enough, according to legend, Legong dance came into being through a dream vision! The prince of Sukawati is said to have had a feverish dream in which two girls danced to Gamelan music. Subsequently, being the inspired guy he was, the prince arranged for such dream dances to be performed in real life.
Another story version of Legong´s possible origins states that it came into being through the sanghyang dedari, a ceremony involving voluntary possession of two little girls by beneficent spirits. Sounds kinda creepy, though, right? Again, fear not, the dance performances are absolutely mindblowing anyways, no matter where their origins really lie.
By the way, no matter which performance you choose to watch in the end, you can´t really go wrong: each one of them will be like a window into a very different world and enticing in its own right. And you might be more than just intrigued by its mesmerizing after- effects…
Musings on creativity: The inspiring after-effects of outstanding performance-art
I mean, do you know that feeling when you have just finished watching either a great stage performance or a fantastic movie and want nothing more than owning it like that performer just did? For some moments in time, the boundaries between you and the art in question seems to have dissolved, and its particular charm lingers in your consciousness, infusing you with the sense of new possibilities and alternative ways of being. The promise of a new you, waiting to be born into the world!
Because, let´s be honest, friends: who hasn´t aspired to be the Wolverine/ Rose from “Titanic”/ Rambo/ a Disney princess/ Mick Jagger, just moments after being utterly entranced and enchanted by their outstanding creation of art? Yes, I see you, singing into your hairbrush in front of the mirror or swaying your hips behind closed curtains …keep doing you!
Anyways, that after-performance-trance is exactly what happened to me after watching the aforementioned Balinese dance performance on the majestic playground of Ubud´s royal palace. Absolutely awe-struck by the dancer´s precise yet magical movements and with little hesitation, I booked myself into a Balinese dance class at the hotel I was staying at.
Balinese Dance lessons: Insights into a world of precision and faith
Funny thing though: The dance class eventuated in the foyer of the hotel, right next to the check-in and in front of the buffet, where people were munching on their mango-papaya-dragonfruit-salads and other tropical breakfast delights. Yeah, that´s right: My first steps into Balinese dance would be accompanied by dozens of digestive systems operating at highest speed.
First, though, it would be time to meet Eka, a lovely Balinese woman who would help me transform into an aspiring Balinese dancer for the day. I was a little nervous: The femininity and beauty of Balinese women is the stuff legends are made off, after all!
From a young age, Balinese girls are trained in creating intricate flower offerings and presenting them in sequence at the family temple accompanied by rituals and prayer. Furthermore, they also learn about traditional Balinese food preparation and Balinese dance, as Eka told me while dipping her makeup brush into a vast array of colors and applying them generously to my face.
With the days of dramatic make-up mostly behind me and banished to my teenage years and early twenties, I was a little out of my comfort zone – listening to Eka´s fascinating insights into Balinese culture fortunately made the time go by rather quickly. To finish the transformation into a tiny dancer, I slipped into a fancy Balinese dance-attire that Eka had lovingly handed me, and off to the hotel-lobby-area aka classroom we went.
Alas, it was time to get over my pieces of shyness for a little while and delve into some typical Balinese dance movements as instructed by my gentle teacher, never minding the full-to-capacity breakfast area and countless people curiously eyeing off this foreigner-pretending-to-be-Balinese. And this is how it went down:
Back to you, dear reader: Have you ever seen a traditional Balinese dance performance before, or a traditional dance performance from a foreign culture in general? Also – did you ever sing into a hairbrush? Sorry, had to ask 😛 As always, would love to hear from you!
Practical information on catching a performance in Ubud:
- The easiest way to get tickets: If you are around Jalan Raya Ubud in the afternoon, you´ll most likely run into street vendors offering tickets to the nightly spectacles. Otherwise, just head directly to Ubud Royal palace no later than 7 pm to buy your tickets at the door.
- Performance time and duration: Nightly performances start at 7:30 PM every day of the week and last for an hour.
- How much does it cost me? You´ll be 100.000 IDR poorer per person, yet a lot richer in spirit!
- Where was it again? At Ubud Royal Palace, Jalan Raya Ubud No 8, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, World.