In Bali there are various categories of dance; barong, pendet, baris, topeng legong, and kecak including epic performances such as the Mahabharat and Ramayana.
Balinese dances are not only a very ancient dance tradition but are an important part of the religious and artistic expression among the Balinese people.
Balinese dance is highly expressive and dynamic using whole body gestures, head to toe gestures and eye, hand and finger movements to express the drama of the story.
These Balinese dances portray stories from Hindu epics but with heavy Balinese influence.
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 highly stylized Legong Kraton enacts a drama of a most purified and abstract kind. The story is performed by three dancers: the condong, a female attendant of the court, and two identically dressed legongs (dancers),who adopt the roles of royal persons. Originally, a storyteller sat with the orchestra and chanted the narrative, but even this has been refined away in many Legongs. Only the suggestive themes of the magnificent gamelan gong (the full Balinese orchestra) and the minds of the audience conjure up imaginary changes of scene in the underlying play of Legong Kraton.
The story derives from the history of East Java in the 12th and 13th centuries: when on a journey the King of Lasem finds the maiden Rangkesari lost in the forest. He takes her home and locks her in a house of stone. Rangkesari’s brother, the Prince of Daha, learns of her captivity and threatens war unless she is set free.
The story of the great Hindu epic, Ramayana, greatly inspires the Balinese and their version differs from the Indian version. Many of their dances are based on this great story which is often depicted in a ballet. The full story is massive, and told only in episodes.
The most popular episode tells the story of Prince Rama, his wife Sita, and his brother Laksmana. They are banished from their kingdom and wandering through the forest. One day, while hunting for deer, they are tricked by the evil Rawana, who kidnaps Sita. With the help of the mythical Garuda, and Hanuman – a white monkey general, Prince Rama eventually saves his wife.
Kecak is a form of Balinese dance and music drama that developed in the 1930s in Bali. It is performed primarily by men, although as of 2006, a few women’s kecak groups exist.
Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, the piece, performed by a circle of 150 or more performers wearing checked cloth around their waists, percussively chanting “cak” and throwing up their arms, depicts a battle from the Ramayana. The monkey-like Vanara helped Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. Kecak has roots in sanghyang, a trance-inducing exorcism dance.
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