Balinese Dances History
After the Majapahit warriors subdued Bali in the 14th century, Javanese mini-principalities and courts soon appeared everywhere, creating that unique blend of court and peasant culture, which is Bali - highly sophisticated, dynamic and lively. The accompanying narrative for dance and drama is to a large extent based on court stories from pre-Majapahit Java. Even the Indian epics, another favorite of the stage, especially the wayang, use Javanese, complete with long quotes from the ancient Javanese Kakawin poetry So Javanese culture, which disappeared from Java following Islamization in the l6th century, still survived in Bali in a "Balinese form", which became classical Balinese culture.
However, colonization brought about the fall of classical Bali. With the rural courts defeated and with new lords of the land, the centre of creativity shifted to village associations, and to the development of tourism. The 30's and 50's were particularly fertile decades; while the old narrative led theater survived, lively solo dances appeared everywhere, accompanied by a new, dynamic kind of music called gong kebyar. This trend continued in the 60's and 70's with the creation of colossal sendratari ballets, representing ancient Indian and Javanese stories adapted to the needs of modern audiences.
Dance & Religion
Balinese dance is inseparable from religion. A small offering of food and flowers must precede even dances for tourists. Before performing, many dancers pray at their family shrines, appealing for holy "taksu" (inspiration) from the gods.
In this rural tradition, the people say that peace and harmony depend on protection by the gods and ancestors. Dance in this context may fulfill a number of specific functions:
- As a channel for visiting gods or demonic gods, the dancers acting as a sort of living repository. These trance dances include the Sang Hyang Dedari, with little girls in trance, and the Sang Hyang Jaran, a fire dance;
- As a welcome for visiting gods, such as the pendet, rejang and sutri dances;
- As entertainment for visiting gods, such as the topeng and the wayang.
In some of these dances, the role of dancing is so important that it is actually the key to any meaning to be found in the ritual. In wayang performances, the puppeteer is often seen as the "priest" sanctifying the holy water.
As well as their use in religious ceremonies, dance and drama also have a strong religious content. It is often said that drama is the preferred medium through which the Balinese cultural tradition is transmitted. The episodes performed are usually related to the rites taking place; during a wedding one performs a wedding story; at a death ritual there is a visit to "hell" by the heroes. Clowns (penasar) comment in Balinese, peppering their jokes with religious and moral comments on stories whose narratives use Kawi (Old-Javanese).
The typical posture in Balinese dance has the legs half bent, the torso shifted to one side with the elbow heightened and then lowered in a gesture that displays the suppleness of the hands and fingers. The torso is shifted in symmetry with the arms. If the arms are to the right, the shifting is to the left, and vice-versa.
Apart from their costumes, male and female roles can be identified mostly by the accentuation of these movements. The women's legs are bent and huddled together, the feet open, so as to reveal a sensual arching of the back. The men's legs are arched and their shoulders pulled up, with more marked gestures, giving the impression of power.
Dance movements follow on from each other in a continuum of gestures with no break and no jumping (except for a few demonic or animal characters).
Each basic posture (agem), such as the opening of the curtain or the holding of the cloth, evolves into another agem through a succession of secondary gestures or tandang. The progression from one series to the other, and the change from right to left and vice-versa, is marked by a short jerky emphasis called the angsel. The expression is completed by mimicry of the face: the tangkep. Even the eyes dance, as can be seen in the baris and trunajaya dances.
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