As an inseparable part of a part of religious and artistic expression among native Balinese people, Balinese dance is dynamic, angular and intensely expressive. The dancers express the story of dance-drama through the whole bodily gestures; fingers, hands and body, to head and eyes movements.
There are three main categories of Balinese dance; wali (sacred dance done only for religious ritual purpose), bebali (semi-sacred and not necessarily for religious purpose) and balih-balihan (created for entertainment and festive purpose). In contrast to contemporary dance in which the movements are free and only constrained by the limits of the body, the dance gesture of a Bali traditional dance have been kept unchanged since first originated as a part of religious ritual done in the Pura (Hindu temple) to give praise or worship their deities, and passed from generation to generation. Here are some lists of the most iconic dance around the island.
- Kebyar Trompong
Kebyar is a solo male dance from Ubud where the dancers use his body to interpret every nuance of the music in powerful facial expressions and movement. The connection between musical beat and dance are strong in Kebyar dance. It is said that no one can become a great Kebyar dancer unless he can play every instrument of the orchestra. In Kebyar Trompong, the dancer becomes a part of the orchestra by playing a long instrument called the trompong while he continues to dance.
Another form of secular dance, Panyembrama literally means ‘welcome’ and performed solely for entertainment purpose, usually done to greet the guest upon their arrival. This dance always performed by young girl in full traditional costume who comes onstage carrying a dish with incense and flowers in it. Panyembrama dance is largely similar to Pendet dance and supposedly inspired by it.
An ancient form of Balinese dance-drama performance, Gambuh is one of the oldest surviving forms in Balinese performing arts, dating to the late Majapahit era. Combining dance, music, and acting, Gambuh draws on the narrative material of the Malat, a series of poems about the fictional Javanese Prince, Raden Panji, an incarnation of Wisnu. The dance and music of Gambuh are technically exacting and complex; the dialogue requires knowledge of the Kawi language, an old literary tongue, which is translated for the audience into contemporary Balinese language by the characters of lower status.
Literally means ‘line’, Baris is a warrior dance usually performed by men. In Baris, the dancers depict the feelings of a young warrior prior to battle, glorify the manhood of the triumphant Balinese warrior, and display the sublimity of his commanding presence. There are two main types of Baris dance, which can be found throughout the island of Bali divided by the performers, the solo dance performed by a dancer and ritual dance performed by groups of dancers.
There are several beliefs about the origin of Legong dance. It was probably originated in the 19th century as entertainment for the kings and royal families. Legong is a refined dance form characterized by intricate finger movements, complicated footwork, expressive gestures and facial expressions. It is generally performed by girls who have not yet reached puberty. Interestingly, the original Legong dance was first performed by young boys in the court, and was called ‘Nandir’.
The tale of Barong & Rangda has been considered as a sacred symbol by Balinese Hindu. They are not just a figure in Calonarang folklore, or in dance, they are the metaphor of fight between good versus evil. Barong is a guardian and protector while Rangda is the villain, a symbol of evil spirits. In Barong and Rangda Dance, the phenomenom of trance usually involved, as several men stab themselves on the stage with real keris (ancient dagger), influenced by Rangda, but they are unable to injure themselves thanks to Barong’s protection.
Kecak is a storytelling dance performance based on the Hindu Epic lore of Ramayana that tells the story of Prince Rama, who with the help of the monkey-like Vanara defeats the evil King Ravana to rescue Princess Sita. The dance begins with percussive chants of a 150-man chorus clad in checkered cloths around their waists, sitting in concentric circles, forming a stage in the center. As the plot progress, the circular ensemble sways rhythmically back and forth and waves their hands while chanting the word ‘cak!’ rapidly.
A form of festive dance with interesting background, Janger is a dance done by Balinese youth, both young and girls. Sitting together and sing the ‘janger’ chant together as they moved in harmonic rhythm. It is said the dance was originated from the chant sung by female farmers in Northern Bali, as they plant their crops. In its development, Janger becomes a form of entertainment dance and done in fun celebration vibe. It even assimilates some modern influence in term of costume, which are not necessarily bound to traditional Balinese costume. It is a common sight to see Janger performed in Western outfits of stocking, shoes or khaki uniforms. Nowadays, Janger are still performed in certain cultural events, even though not as often as it used to.