Bali is a small island in Southeast Asia, with sparkling oceans and volcanic mountains, rural rice fields and bustling urban centers. Malay people are the vast majority in Bali, and a local form of Hinduism predominates, shaping Balinese life and art since long before the island became part of Indonesia.
Balinese music and dance is many centuries old, but continues to develop as a living tradition. In Bali, dance is always closely allied to music, not only in the fact that many gamelan (gong-chime orchestra or ensemble) performances include dance as a major component, but also because the details of choreography and dance gesture are tightly synchronized with the music's accents and textures. The traditions evolved primarily in the context of the highly ornate, multi-faceted ceremonies of Balinese Hindu culture. In these dances, the performance is seen as an offering to the Hindu deities, who are invited down from the heavens to visit the temples during temple anniversaries and other auspicious ritual occasions.
New art forms are constantly added to the classical repertoire of Balinese dances. In Bali, the word “traditional” does not carry the same significance as here, because almost all new work is based on older work, which is then re-arranged and modified according to modern tastes and interpretations. There is thus a smooth continuum between old and new in the accepted creation of new traditions by artists of the current generation.
Several newly created dances are also very popular, such as the Tari Kijang Kencana ("the Golden Deer Dance") and Tari Manuk Rawa ("Long Legged Bird Dance"), both created within the last 30 years.
In People Like Me 2005, dancer I Made Moja will perform a drama tari piece based on the Hindu mythology of The Ramayana -- a classic tale of good vs. evil. For the past two thousand years the Ramayana has been among the most important literary and oral texts of South Asia. This epic poem provides insights into many aspects of Hindu culture and continues to influence the politics, religion and art of Hindu societies. The excerpt presented centers on the preparation for battle between the monkey king, Sugriwa (played by I Made Moja), and Kumokarna, the brother of the evil King Rawana. Sugriwa rallies the monkey army and they chant to raise their spirits and mobilize their power. The instrumentation includes a small Gamelan ensemble (metallaphone, drum, gong, cymbal, flute) and chanting (kecak).
Balinese Masked Dance
Some of the masks danced in Topeng include the Old Man, Clown characters, servants, and Kings. Topeng dancers hold a special role among performing artists, in that they must be literate in history and religion, and be aware of local, national, and international developments. The Topeng characters not only explicate the story, but also make a connection between that story and the event at hand, which might be a religious ceremony such as a temple anniversary, a human rite of passage such as a funeral, or even a political rally. The character not only reveals the traditional meaning of the ceremony, but also makes comments on politics, morality, and the modern function of the ceremony.
Traditionally, the first two or three characters to come out are the opening, non-speaking characters. With the entrance of the speaking penasar, servant to the king, the story begins to be revealed. Other masks advance the story in one way or another -- by singing in the lofty language of kings and princes, by interpreting and commenting on that language for the audience, by cracking jokes, and, at moments when the music stops, through sparkling banter and dialogue with other characters. (Notice the parallel to other masked movement styles, such as Commedia dell'Arte!)
The masks that are used in Topeng, as with all other Balinese masked performance, are carved by revered mask makers out of a light wood called pule (poo-lay). Mask makers have a special respected place in Balinese society, and those who carve masks for ceremonial types of masked dance do so out of live trees.
The music for Topeng underscores the topeng's character, reflecting refinement, strength, or humor. Music for the refined characters will have longer "gong cycles" or rhythmic patterns, while the funnier and coarser character are accompanied by shorter gong cycles. As the dancer goes through his characteristic movements within a certain musical structure, the sequence and pacing of the movements is improvised, though they are mostly based on a well-known repertoire which is familiar to the musicians. At particular moments within the metric framework of the gong cycle, the dancer gives cues for angsel, or rhythmic breaks in the musical flow which are reflected in the choreography. The drummer communicates the angsel to the other musicians through split-second reactions. Ideally, the drummer and dancer are in perfect sympathetic coordination, as they communicate not only through choreographic cues, but also through changes of voice and dramatic development as the story unfolds.
The traditions changed in the 20th century primarily due to increasing Western artistic interest in the holistic arts context of Balinese Hindu culture. There are many dance forms based on movements from the ceremonial dance that are more secular in nature, including Legong, the one that was performed in People Like Me 2000.
In 2000, the dancers of Gamelan Sekar Jaya performed a dance called Oleg Tambulilingan ("Bumblebee" Dance) -- for one female and one male dancer, accompanied by gamelan joged (small ensemble of bamboo marimbas, drum and other percussion). The dance depicts the courtship of two bees in a garden of flowers. The female dancer appears first, in a short, composed dance section that highlights the beauty of her movements. The "male" character (nowadays performed by either a male or female dancer) appears in the second section, and the two engage in a partly choreographed, partly improvised dance depicting their courtship. They are accompanied by one or two bamboo marimbas (or metallophones) playing lively syncopated rhythms, a small gong-type instrument, and a conical two- sided "kendang" drum. The drummer's role is especially important, as he responds to the dancer's spontaneous movements with sudden accents, or changes in tempo or dynamics.
and choreography for this work were originally composed by Pan
Sukra and I Nyoman Maria, respectively, for the famous 1951-2
American and British tour of the music/dance troupe from the village
of Peliatan, Bali. They re-adapted many elements from a series
of stylistically similar dances created in the 1930s, 40s and
50s. This version, in turn, was re-arranged for the 2000 performance
by Sekar Jaya's guest artistic directors Dewa Berata and Nyoman
Cerita, replacing the original large gamelan orchestra with a
small bamboo ensemble that is often used to accompany a very similar
dance of flirtation known as joged. Joged dances are true popular
dance forms in Bali performed for entertainment; traditionally
they were done in the street or the village square.