Dance and drama have historically
played an important role in Balinese society. Through this
medium, people learned about the tales of the Ramayana, Mahabharata,
and other epic stories from Balinese history. The following
are brief descriptions of some of the more well know dance
dramas that can be see at regular performance, throughout
This is a warrior's dance. It is usually performed by men,
either solo or in a group of five or more; the dancers try
to portray the full range of emotions displayed by a warrior
- anger, courage, ferocity and passion. This dance requires
great skill, with the artist having to display the whole range
of inner emotions mainly through facial expression.
This is basically story about the struggle between
good and evil. Good is personified by the Barong Keket, a
strange, fun loving creature in the shape of a shaggy semi
lion. Evil is represented by Rangda, a witch. Ultimately the
two characters engage in battle at which point the Barong's
keris-bearing followers rush in to attack Rangda. The witch,
however, uses her magical powers to turn the keris knives
in, upon their owners, who fall into a trance and start trying
to stab themselves. The Barong then uses magic to protect
his followers from the knives. In the end, the barong triumph
and rangda retreats to recuperate her strength for the next
encounter. All that remains is for a priest to help the keris
dancers out of their trance with the help of a little holy
water. The barong and rangda dance is a very powerful performance
and is definitely not taken lightly by those involved.
The most famous of the Balinese dances, the Kecak, originated
from the Sanghyang dance choirs, who chant a distinctive "kechak-kechak"
accompaniment. The Kecak, as a dance, developed in the 1930's,
in the village of Bona, where it is still performed regularly.
The theme is taken from Ramayana and tells the story of Rama,
who, with the help of the monkey army, tries to rescue his
wife from the clutches of the evil King Rawana. This is a
very exciting dance to watch and is performed by a large group
of chanting men sitting in a circle, waving their arms and
swaying to and fro in time with the chants.
This dance tell the story of Princess Rangkesari who
is held captive against her will by King Lakesmi. Rangkesari's
brother, Prince Daha, gathers an army together to rescue his
sister. Rangkesari then tries to persuade the king to let
her go and avoid a war but he refuses. On his way to battle
Daha is attacked by a raven, a bad omen, and is later killed
in battle. The dance only takes the story up to the point
where the king departs for battle and is performed by three
people, two Legongs and their attendant, the Condong. The
Legong is a very classical and graceful dance and is always
performed by pre-pubescent girls, often as young as eight
or nine years old.
The Sanghyang is a divine force that enters the bodies
of the entranced dancers. There are a number of Sanghyang
dances but the most common are the Sanghyang Dedari and the
The Sanghyang Dedari is performed by two girls and is very
similar in style to the Legong, the main difference being
that these girls are supposedly untrained and furthermore
they keep in perfect time with each other even though their
eyes are firmly shut. The accompanying music is provided by
a female choir and a male Kecak choir.
In the Sanghyang Jaran a boy dances around and through a fire
riding a kind of coconut palm hobby-horse. This is frequently
called the 'Fire Dance' for the sake of tourists. In both
dances, a priest is always on hand to help bring the dancers
out of their trance-state at the end of the performance.
In Bali, masks are considered sacred objects and revered as
such. The best ones are traditionally carved on auspicious
days and the dancers who wear them are believed to be possessed
by the spirits of the masks. Characters can be identified
from the shape of the feature; noble characters always wear
full, refined masks while evil is represented by bulging eyes
and garish colours. The characters are silent but communicate
using complex gesture of the hand, head and body. The story
lines usually follow popular myths or episodes from history.
Wayang Kulit (Shadow puppet) is one of the great story-telling
traditions of the Javanese and Balinese. The Wayang show normally
consists os a small 4 pieces orchestra, which provides the
musical accompaniment, around 60 or so 'puppets' carved out
of flat pieces of water buffalo hide, and the Dalang or Pupper-master.
The Dalang has to be both incredibly skilled as well as knowledgeable.
He not only manipulates all the puppets but has to provide
a different 'voice' for each one. With good characters normally
speaking in ancient 'Kawi' and evil or coarse characters speaking
Balinese, the Dalang, therefore, has to be fluent in both
Although traditional dramas cover a wide variety of themes,
the most popular are stories taken from the Mahabharata.