It was a long day indeed. We had visited Kintamani highland in the morning and then enjoyed a hearty lunch, in an open air dream atmosphere, facing Mt. Batur and the black land around. Panoramic lake Kintamani gave us company from far. Post lunch, we went to Alas Harum Abud – one of the popular agrotourism projects of Bali. We enjoyed the long swings, enjoyed the luwak coffee making process and tasted some. The tourist bus then finally halted in front of an auditorium look alike place with a ticket counter in the front. It was for an experience of Kecak Dance.
The Kecak dance auditorium
It looked like a simple auditorium. It was Sahadewa Teri kecak and Sanghyang stage chandra Budaya in Batubulan. One of the most unpretentious areas and surroundings. The expectations are set right. One of the most natural acts possible. Later, I asked our guide, Pa Sutaif, if he had also learnt Kecak Dance. So, he confimed that he did learn and also perform when he was a boy. Most of the dancers have a full time job and they do this in the evening just for the love of art.
Kecak Dance and its importance in Balinese culture
It is often said that the origin of Kecak Dance is in Sanghyang dance, often known as trance dance. A dance ritual, which used to be performed to drive away evil spirit. It was for the health and well being of the village and was immensely popular. It was a German painter and musician Walter Spies, who got interested in this form of dance. He then, introduced certain chapters of Ramayana in the dance, slightly transformed it into a dance drama and since then, it is performed in front of tourists. I could find many young boys in the dance and that’s a promising way to keep the tradition alive. We walked by a narrow pathway to the main auditorim.
A stroll at the Ubud Art Market is always enriching and read our experience.
When and where Kecak dance is performed
Kecak dance is performed across Bali in various places. In the temples of Uluwatu and Tanah lot, there are special designated shows and ticket counters. Even in the King’s palace, in front of Ubud Market, there are shows of Kecak dance. Two distinct feature of Kecak dance is that it’s carried out in the evening starting from dusk. Also, the performaces happen in open air auditoriums. In Batubulan, the auditorium reminded me of my college classes. Theatre style seating arrangement in front of a dias and all sides open, though, a very basic set up. On the stage, there is a small traditional Balinese gate, through which the entry and the exit of the performers occur.
The story of Kecak Dance and the performance
The most distinct feature of Kecak dance is no background music. The music is the chorus made by the actors/performers on the stage. Chak Chak Chak are the chants which forms the background music. During the act, depending on the mood and the situation, the rythm and the scale of the chants change. It’s normally 40 to 100 men who sit in a pattern, chanting chak chak chak. We had around 60 men of various ages, dressed in black and white chessboard like design lungi/cloth wrapped around their waist.There is a hibiscus on each ear, some body paints and after the entire performance, they come out as the real stars.There are 5 acts of Ramayana enacted on the stage. It starts with Abduction of Sita, when the golden deer appears and ends with Ram, Sita and Laxman goiung back to Ayodhya.
Other than the male dancers on the floor, there is a Hanuman, Ravan with Sita being the pivotal characters. Each one with local Balinese dress, head gears, faces painted and heavy jewellery. Hanuman, even does natural acrobatics on the stage. As the play progresses, the nautral light from outside disappears. It’s dark outside and then lights are turned on. Some of the older actors look tired, some caught napping too but the young ones balance out the energy. However, towards the end, the grand spectacle of a live fire on the stage thrills the audience.
The end and the takeaway
When the Kecak dance show ended, we got a chance to meet the actors. It was late in the evening by then. The actors looked weary after the show. It was more than an hour in sultry weather conditions of Bali. This form of art needs extreme physical efforts, add on the heavy makeup and costumes.There were kids too as I mentioned earlier and as a parent, I wondered when they study, do they have a school tomorrow? For some, it was way past the bed time and yet, they had a smile on the face
Kecak Dance, Ramayana and the significance
I got introduced to Ramayana by my grandmother. It was my favourite bed time story and each day she would read a different chapter. Then as it happens with an epic, television shows, theatres, local plays, recitation to even exam papers, Ramayana became imbibed in the dna. However, it had been some time that I refreshed my memory, This was a good exercise. An initiative to keep alive an Indian epic with a Bali connection and in the purest form of art. There are few initiatives which are better than this. So, the next time you are in Bali, don’t miss out on Kecak Dance.