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The Village orchestras

Next to having good orchestras, a fine group of dancers is an almost organic need for the spiritual and physical life of the community. Besides the passion they show for their music and dancing and the important part these play in the ritual, to have a skilful and famous group of dancers brings pride and social prestige to the village ward, the bandjar. The young men of today are fond of football games, but all other attempts to introduce foreign amusements have failed in Bali. The rare movie shows in the two large towns are patronized almost exclusively by the foreign population, and not even the rich princes like phonographs, although there are excellent records of Balinese music. I do not know anyone who has a radio.

Balinese dancing is essentially for exhibition: dancing to entertain an audience and for display of skill, a stage of development that belongs to an advanced civilization, but that in Bali goes hand in hand with the ritual-magic dances characteristic of primitive peoples. Thus 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. In the religious dances the community amuses itself at the same time that it tries to propitiate the gods and ward off evil spirits. There are even violent self-sacrificial dances in which the performers in a trance simulate self-torture with knives or walk on fire to appease the bloodthirsty evil spirits and to show their supernatural powers.


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The Balinese attribute a divine origin music and dancing. It is said that Batara Guru, the Supreme Teacher, invented the first instruments, and that Indra, the Lord of the Heavens, originated dancing when he created the incomparably beautiful dedari, the nymphs of heaven, to dance for the pleasure of the gods. In the Ardjuna Wiwaha it is mentioned that the seven principal dedari were made from a precious stone that,was split into seven parts. Before dancing for the assembled gods, the nymphs, the legend says, walked three times around them in the usual respectful manner; the gods became lovesick, and since their. dignity prevented them from turning around, Indra sprung many eyes, and brahma developed four faces.

Balinese dancing was, perhaps, originally restricted to the ritual, but the religious dance has become more and more theatrical; characters that were once frightful demons are now tamed to perform for the amusement of the crowd. There are, however, still many purely religious or magical dances; local priests (pemangku, kabayan, and so forth) of the old communities still dance solemnly at temple feasts, in front of the altars, holding incense-burners, even going into a trance and walking in fire, Only in Bali have I seen wrinkled old women with white hair dancing to amuse the gods, splendidly unashamed of what would be normally the attribute of youth. At temple feasts they perform the mendet and the redjang, two dances mainly for " aged " women - married women - with offerings of food to the visiting deities.

Although there are dances of a purely demonstrative type that interpret the music, dancing in Bali cannot be considered as an art separate from the theatre. In fact, the arts of the theatre are so closely allied that there is no word in Balinese meaning " theatre." No Balinese would think of separating a show into its component parts or, on the other hand, think a show complete that did not contain, music and dancing. They divide their. theatre rather according to the style of the story, which'in turn dictates its music and the style of its technique. So, for example,, the stories of the Ramayana take the shadow, or wayang wong form, the historical plays are the topeng, and love stories the ardja, and so forth. The following are the most important Balinese dances and plays:

LEGONG, Music: full pelegongan orchestra. Dance-pantomime by two or three young girls playing Lasem and Semaradhana stories.

TJALONMUNG Pelegongan with large flutes. A great exorcizing drama of the story of Rangda Tjalonarang, with dialogue, singing, and dancing.

BARONG Pelegongan (called bebarongan in this case). A dancepantomime of the adventures of a fantastic, holy animal, ending usually in a wild kris dance (rebong, ngurek) by men in trance. Also an exorcism.

DJAUK Pelegongan orchestra. Dance-pantomime by male masked actors. Danced in the legong technique, with any story. Masks do not represent special characters. Characteristic head-dress.

DJOGED Pediogedan, an orchestra of the pelegongan type, but made of bamboo. A purely demonstrative, flirtatious dance without a story. Called gandrung when performed by a boy in girl's clothes.

MENDeT and REDJANG Orchestra: semar pegulingan or pelegongan. Two offering dances performed by elderly women and priests during temple feasts.

SANGHYANG Music: songs by a chorus of men and women'. An exorcizing trance dance of the legong style performed by little girl mediums.

WAYANG kulit Orchestra: gender wayang. Shadow-plays by pup

pets. Stories of the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and others. A storyteller chants recitative.

WAYANG WONG Gender wayang with drums and other percussions.

Ramayana episodes by masked actors dancing and singing in classic Kawi.

BARIS Gong. Ritual war dances with spears (baris gede). There

is a modernized version (baris pendet) in which heroic plays are performed in dance-pantomine with incidental dialogue and singing.

TOPeNG Gong. Masked actoris playing local historical plays (ba

bad); mostly pantomine, but with dialogue by the comic cbaracters.

KEBIYAR Gong kebiyar. A modem dance purely demonstrative in

character, performed by a boy dancer who interprets musical moods.

GAMBuH Gamelan gambu'h; flutes, violin, and percussions. The classic technique for dramatic performances. Stories from the Malat, with much singing. Other plays of a similar character arc the tantn, tjupak, basur, and parwa.

ARDJA Gamelan ardia; flutes and percussions. The ardia is a modernized gamb6h playing romantic stories like Tiandra Lasan, Salya, Sidapaksa, Galolikuh,.and Chinese tales like Sampik and Tuan Wei.

BARONG LANDONG Gamelan batel flutes and gongs. Giant puppets of a religious character, playing humorous stories, the adventures of an old woman (djero luh) and a black giant (diero gede). ' DJANGER Gamelan djanger; flute, gong, and drums. A modern musical comedy with many foreign elements, performed by boys and girls.

kECAK Large groups of men singing in chorus, moving and dancing to the rhythm of the music. Occasionally performing episodes of plays. Derived from the sanghyang and dianger.

All these forms will be described later, divided for easier recognition according to our custom under the headings of " dance,plays, opera," and so forth, by their most characteristic features.

Like music, dancing has developed to a standard of technical perfection that makes of it a difficult science, requiring years of special physical training and practice. Although strict rules are followed and the structure of the dance is made up entirely of traditional gestures that leave no room for improvisation or Individualistic styles, there is a certain margin of freedom allowed for the dancer. Sound and gesture become one, definite movements ruled by the most rigid discipline. The excellence of a performer does not depend only on his skill, but also on his personality' his emotional intensity, and the expressiveness of his features. Only clowns (bebanyolan) have no special technique and no program

Personality and the spirit of surprise are expected of them.

Obviously there is Javanese influence discernible in. the Balinese school of dancing, but they have drifted so far apart in spirit and in social function that they have little in common today. In Bali dancing is still a living popular art, while in Java, where dance of the higher order was dying until rescued in recent years by the sultans, today it is only in the high courts of the Javanese princes that fine dancing can be seen. In Java the fine dancer is a specialist attached to the court, often a prince himself; in Bali be is an ordinary villager with talent and skill who performs for the prestige of his community and for the entertainment of his neigbbours. In Bali as well as in Java, it is a part of the education of a prince to dance, act, and play musical instruments, but in Bali a prince who organizes a theatrical group mingles with the common people and performs for their amusement. It is amusing to hear the Javanese and the Balinese deride each other's theatre: the Balinese think the dances of Java are meaningless, dull, and dead, but the Javanese are shocked at the " noisy " music of Bali and look upon their dancing as the product of rude and primitive peasants.

The Balinese have constantly injected new life into their theatre, in contrast to the Javanese, who, perhaps because of Mohammedan influence, have allowed the art to come to a standstill so that their acting suggests imitation of the movements of their archaic marionette shows (wayang purwa) . The Javanese actor cannot express emotion except by the most conventional gestures, and his face remains fixed and mask-like. The Balinese act in an exactly opposite manner. They are gay, exuberant, and fond of gestures and slapstick comedy. Javanese masks are stylized, with long, sharp noses and slit eyes that eliminate all sense of the realism frowned upon by Islamism. The Balinese make masks of amazing expressiveness, often realistic in character, studies of standard types. I have seen a masked play with masterfully carved masks that were caricatures of Chinese, Arabs, and Europeans.

A theatrical group is organized by the villagers into a society along the same lines as a musical club. Contributions of money are made, instruments procured, and musicians trained. The future dancers are selected from the boys and girls of the community, taking into consideration their pleasing personal appearance, their physical fitness, and their potential talent for a particular dance. For that most typical of Balinese dances, the legong, for example, the little girls chosen should be from five to eight years of age, and if they can be found to look alike, it is taken for granted that they will make a very fine legong.

When the dancers are assembled, a teacher is called to train them. He is generally a former great dancer or an orchestra leader who knows the dance to the last detail. The most elementary routines are taught at first, and repeated until the dance has " gone into the pupil." The teacher is often assisted by his more accomplished pupils, slightly older dancers from other villages. The method of training consists in guiding the movements of the pupil, leading them energetically by the wrists until by sheer repetition the pupils acquire the " feeling " of the gesture and can do the movements by themselves. At the'beginning the teacher chants the tunes, but formal rehearsals with the full orchestra are held later.

The teacher works tirelessly for weeks and months at a time and it is typical of Bali that be is not necessarily paid for his efforts. If be receives a monetary reward for his work, it is insignificant and is meant rather as expense money while in a strange community. Instead of a fee, be is lavishly feasted and treated as an honoured guest. If his home is in another village, be is lodged in the bandjar where he teaches and at the end of every rehearsal is presented with trays of Chinese cakes, coffee, cigarettes, and betel-nut. It is not unusual for a famous teacher like Ida Bagus Boda of DenPasar to be called to give the finishing touches to a well-trained group. The various styles of teaching are so definite that it is not difficult for a Balinese connoisseur to guess the teacher of a given legong.

Physical training plays an important part in the dancer's education; while the pupil learns the elemental sequence of the dance ' the basic steps, and general movements of the arms, he exercises regularly to acquire suppleness of every muscle and control over each member until his body becomes practically double-jointed.

The legs, however, are used with a minimum of importance in the dance, except for locomotion, and in certain sitting dances like the kebiyar are not used ata'll. It is said that such movements are possible only because of the extreme youth of the dancers! It is true that a legong dancer retires at twelve or thirteen, or perhaps continues in another type of dance, and that a fully grown girl is often considered too big, to dance, but there are old women who are fine dancers and a good'baris performer is usually a man past middle age. A solo dance often lasts more than an hour, and even children can dance incessantly for long periods of time without showing traces of exhaustion. This resistance often amazes travellers, but, the Balinese explain that the dancer is unconscious of the real work and falls into a sort of self-induced trance where only the rhythm of the dance exists, and the dancer then moves in a world where fatigue is unknown. Legong dancers are very popular in the community; they are looked upon as people out of the ordinary and are exempt from heavy work. They have many suitors, and a prince frequently marries a legong dancer as soon as she becomes of age.

When a society has enough money for costumes and the dancers are ready to make a public appearance, the village association, on an auspicious day, gives an inauguration festival (malaspasin). The costumes are blessed before they can be worn for the first time, and the group makes offerings to launch the new organization successfully. An actor, a dancer, or a story-teller undergoes the same ceremony by which a priest or magician adds power to his soul. In the case of a dancer the ceremony is a magic purification and beautification in which a priest with the stem of a flower inscribes magic syllables on the face, head, tongue, and members of the future dancer to make him attractive to the eyes of his public. It is not only on this occasion that dancers pray for success; before every performance they make small offerings to the deities of the dance, Dewa Pergina, and to the nymphs of heaven the dedari Supraba and Tilotama. In the temple Mertasari in Semawang (near Sanur) there is a small stone shrine shaped like a dancing helmet (gelunggan), and often legong dancers go there to deposit offerings. Oncea year,aday (tumpak wayang) is dedicated to the theatre, when all theatrical accessories, the costumes, masks, and marionettes as well as musical instruments, receive offerings, perhaps to restore their original effectiveness. On this day theatrical organizations all over the island give feasts, but no performance of any kind is permitted. There is also a day when literary manuscripts receive offerings; the day is dedicated to Saraswati, goddess of learning, science, and literature, when no one may read.

The size of the crowd is the only indication of whether a performance is successful or not. The Balinese do not applaud or show their appreciation of a performer in any other way. This seeming lack of encouragement does not influence the enthusiasm for the art, and it is my impression that the dance and the theatre of today are even more developed than in the past. judging from, old reports, it seems that there are more performances, the shows are more elaborate and varied, and their are many new styles besides that of the jealously preserved classic theatre. There is hardly a village that does not have some sort of dancing organization, and even the fact that the old custom of exempting actors and musicians from payment of taxes has been abolished by the Government has not diminished interest in dancing and acting. There is not even the incentive of commercial gain for the individual; the small amounts received at private festivals go to the society's fund for new costumes, new instruments, and the communal feasts.

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