Bali Travel Guide ->Barong Dance


Theater and dance is an integral part of Balinese culture. Balinese dances are famous all over the world and the Balinese themselves take them very seriously. Birthdays, weddings, and temples festivals are all occasions for dramatic performances and dance is inextricably linked with the Balinese religion. The commercial performances for tourists that are today offered on a daily basis in several places of Bali do, of course, not have the same religious significance and atmosphere of a dance that is performed at a real temple festival.
Legong Dancers
Legong Dance

For instance, if performed in the context of a religious ceremony, the Barong Dance is ritual theatre with a genuine exorcistic background. It is about restoring the balance between  good and evil and the dualities of life,  a ritual contest between chaos and order. On the stage in Kesiman or Batubulan this aspect is of course lost and it is more like a colourful musical comedy (with some slapstick elements). Nevertheless, the commercial Barong Dance performances are very interesting and you should not miss the opportunity to see one.

Student of the Witch
The Student of the Witch (in the background: Sadewa)

This is the story behind the Barong Dance:

The final fight between the Barong (good) and Rangda (evil) is preceded by a play called Calonarang. Calonarang was a legendary queen who was accused of practising black magic. According to some versions of the story, she killed her husband by pointing with the left hand at him, in others, he just plain deserted her. Anyhow, she becomes known as the Widow (Rangda) and turns into a terrible  Leyal (witch-monster) that is finally killed by a saint who assumes the form of the Barong.

Every performance starts with a short prologue that features a scene with monkeys in a forest and has no connection to the rest of the story other than to show the good character of the Barong. After the prologue, two young girls perform a Legong, a very abstract and difficult dance. After this, the main story starts:

The Boar attacks the royal ministers

A young prince, Sadewa, is going to be sacrificed to a terrible witch monster, and two  servants  of the royal household are discussing opportunities to prevent this, when Kaleka, a student of the witch, enters the stage. The servants are deeply concerned about her appearance and send for the prime minister. The prime minister arrives, followed by the queen herself. The queen is desperate about having to sacrifice her son, but Kaleka, the student of the witch  casts a spell on her and the queen changes her mind, starts beating her son and orders the prime minister to lead Sadewa to the cemetary where the witch lives. At first, the prime minister refuses to do so, but the student of the witch casts a spell on him as well and Sadewa`s fate seems to be sealed.

Rangda attacks the now immortal prince Sadewa

The following scene finds the poor prince tied to a tree at the cemetary, awaiting his death at the hands of the witch. The god Shiva however, has mercy on Sadewa, appears in the disguise of a priest (but flowers are thrown on the stage when he appears to indicate that he is in fact a god) and makes  the prince  immortal. When the student of the witch, who has followed him, notices this, she turns first into a boar, then into giant bird. Sadewa wins over both. But then the witch finally turns into Rangda, the evil of all creation. In order to fight her, Sadewa himself turns into the Barong (a kind of stylized lion) who represents the good powers. Rangda and the Barong fight, but as their powers are balanced, none of them can win.

The Kris Dancers

The Barong now calls for his followers, the kris dancers, to assist him. The kris dancers attack Rangda with their magic knives (kris), but she casts a spell on them so that they fall into a trance and stab themselves with their knives instead of her. However, the Barong makes one final appearance and releases the kris dancers from her curse. In the final scene a priest pours holy water on the kris dancers and awakens them from their trance. (All pictures on this page have been taken at performances of the Batubulan Dance Company).

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Last Updated 02.01.2009