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.
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.
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:
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.
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 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