Bali with its Dance and Music 2017.11.22

The Indian pilgrims of 1,000 years ago expressed great admiration on finding an island so rich in colorful ritual and celebration. Such was their amazement that they gave Bali island with the name WALI, a Sanskrit through the ages, and evidence suggests that it has been known of a "resort" for both the mortal and the immortal. The word WALI remains in Balinese today as the term for those dances or plays deemed holy enough to be offered to the Gods. No big cremation, temple festival, marriage, or sacred rite is complete without a Topeng Mask Play, Wayang Kulit Shadow puppets or a "Parwa" Opera performance. 


With temple festivals and religious rites happening somewhere on the island almost every day, The Balinese have no shortage of arenas for expressing their many talents. A large temple festival resembles a 3-ring circus for the arts. In one corner, on a raised pavilion, the elders will be sitting around a small tray taking turns reciting and translating the poetry from the ancient palm-leaf books. In another pavilion a gamelan orchestra will be playing with full splendor to welcome devotees and to accompany various rituals. A small choir will be crouched below and around the High priest's platform, singing hymns to complement the priest's holy incantations.


The ceiling of the pavilions is likely to be painted with the tales from the Hindu epics, pillar, shrines, and walls are carved in intricate patterns; everywhere statues announce to shrines or gateways they guard. In front of the temple a legong ballet or a lively Mask Drama is in progress. Everywhere are hung tall banners and painted clothes, the inner courtyard is ablaze with rows of two-meter-high woven palm-leaf plagues and pilled fruit offerings. The celebration of art and the celebration of life is one. 


As with the religion, the arts are colored with the many cultures which have impressed the Balinese. The costumes and gestures of many dances suggest southern India. The Barong, the carved dragons, and indicate gold-leaf wood carvings show the influence of Chinese. Some of the olden-day kings of eastern Bali were so impressed with the gothic arches and imperial details of European architecture, that to this day their palaces are referred to in joking as Puri Paris and Puri Amsterdam. 


Traditionally, the theatre space as such does not exist in Bali. Everywhere is a potential theatre. If the village hall is too small for a Mask Play company, then a space will be cleared in a nearby field, the framework of the stage, erected, a curtain backdrop hung, mats laid for the orchestra and the show is ready to go. If one could stay long enough in Bali, then the broad spectrum of dances, mythological effigies, puppets and plays would eventually happen within earshot, but for a visitor it is often difficult to stay still. 


According to Hindu belief the universe was born of the chord AUM, the sound of the Hindu trinity Brahma, Wisnu, Siva. Hindu societies are famous for their celebration of religion through music and dance. Bali is certainly no exception. There is music to accompany long processions to the sea, music to lure the gods down from their celestial heights, special melodies to induce a trance, musical comedies for the masses and night long operas for the elite. There are frog dances, monkey dances, bumble-bee dances, epic ballets, war dances, dance to choose a mate and dances to exorcise evil spirits. And for each occasion customs. venue and the instrument vice as much for the attention of the viewer as does the content of the performances themselves. 


If there is an image for which Bali is famous it is that of the beautiful dancer with towering crown of gold leaf and frangipani flowers, her supple body wound in exotic clothes of silver and gold. Painted fans defining rubber postures as she glides to the enchanting sound of gamelan gong orchestra. More amazing than the singular beauty of the dancers is the abundance of music and dance forms of this small island. There are 60-piece bronze percussion orchestra, small "angklung" bamboo gamelan ensembles, mini xylophone quintets that are carried on s multi-storied pier in funeral processions, orchestras made up entirely of flutes or mouth harped and choral symphonies composed of only chants and grunts. 


Traditionally, all music is public and free performed in open areas for the joy of all. Each village, palace, and many temples have their own gamelan orchestra which are committed to numerous local festivals but are often invited to play in larger celebrations which happen on a regional or island wide level. Nearly every village and many independent families own sets of holy "props" for which they are renowned, a set of masks, legong, head-dressed, Wayang shadow puppets or one on of the monster "animal" effigies called "Barong". These are stored village or house temples awaiting the occasion when they will come to life and perform in the village square or go visiting far-fetched temples re-enacting ritualistic migrations from the past.  


Dancers, musicians and puppeteers are trained from an early age and like most of the arts in Bali talent is passed on from father to son. Often one hears said of a famous artist that he could dance before he could walk. One or two nights a week the "Banjar" community halls are the scene of gamelan practice. Here the young learn by imitation and the very young sleep amongst the bashing of gongs, drums and cymbals. The orchestra remains in the pavilion for anyone who so desires to practice. Dancing is taught in family courtyards where teachers force their protege's limbs into the various postures of the dance. Dancers have their debuts at temple festivals. Stage fright is rate. 


One wonders how an island so small can support such a cast. The Balinese are nimble at assimilating attractive foreign elements and then weaving them into their already rich, fabric or ritual. Over the centuries they have compiled a stunning repertoire dance and music. The arrival of the fleeing Javanese court in the 16th century with their complement of artists and musicians added to already highly developed art forms. If we look at the number of newly founded gamelan ensembles and revived dance companies mushrooming all over the island since the advent of tourism the world of dance and drama can be said to be undergoing a minor renaissance.

Kura-Kura Bus Bali


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