THE BARONG DANCE.
The Barong dance is truly a triumphant display of bright colors and graceful movements. Greatly appreciated by the tourists, special performances are staged for their benefit, generally in the morning, and last one hour.
The village of Batubulan, small town located 30 minutes from the capital, is known for putting on the best performances. There is, however, more to the Barong dance than the folkloristic dimension. It is, in fact, an integral part of the island’s culture and has an evident sacred connotation. It isn’t rare to see the Balinese dancing the Barong during their religious ceremonies, regardless of the presence of tourists.
Inspired by an episode taken from Mahabharata, an epic poem written in Sanskrit. The dance evolves around the character of the Barong, the king of the jungle. A mythical animal, not clearly identified (perhaps a lion), he is the symbol of virtue and good, subject to the continuous struggle against the evil forces that threaten life and the integrity of the forest, this being an element very dear to the Balinese population.
In detail, the Barong embodies everything that can be beneficial to man, and help him defeat illness, black magic, and any other kind of misfortune. The evil entity against which he must relentlessly fight is personified by Rangda., queen of death and devour-er of children. She is characterized by dark and gloomy mask from which a red tongue of fire hangs.
The entire dance is centered around the struggle between these two rival characters. The Barong is interpreted by two dancers whose rhythmic movements bring to life the beautiful and elaborate costume they wear: a large animal head skillfully carved out of wood, brightly colored in red, white, black and gold. It is adorned with a crown extending outwards from the sides of the head, and by prominent necklace which hangs from the neck. The final touch of the costume is a tail made out of Bison leather which is elaborately finished and guild-ed.
The first character to appear on the stage is the Barong with his swaying gait; his dance is meant to express the joy of living. He is followed by a group of armed supporters who stand ready to defend him when Rangda strikes her terrible blows. It isn’t at all rare for the dancers playing the Barong’s followers to become so engrossed in the sacredness of the performance that they go into a real trance.
A cloud of characters surround the Barong on stage: Rangda, goddess of death, personification of evil; the young girl servant Kalika; Dewi Kunti, queen of the kingdom of Hastina and her stepson Sadewa who will be sacrificed in order to placate the anger of Rangda, the minister Dewi Kunti; Patih who express sorrow for the fate of Sadewa (Rangda will have to enter his soul in order to make him accept the sacrifice), and then the monkey supporters of the Barong, producers of palm tree wine (nira).
A very important element in the entire dance is the large orchestra, known as gamelan, which is essential to underscore the ritual nature of the performance. Many are the instruments that make up the orchestra : some metal xylophones which stand out not only because they are so numerous but because of their powerful and imperious sound; the are also drums as well as flutes, the rebab (a type of violin) and the gender (typical xylophones). All together, these instruments are essential in guiding the dance and underscoring the rhythm of well coordinated movements. These along with the joyful colors are the most alluring elements of this remarkable performance.
At the end of the dance, the mask of the Barong and the Rangda, as proof of their sacred nature, are stowed in a special room inside the temple. They are covered very carefully, especially Rangda’s mask, because its deadly powers are greatly feared. It is a way of saying that the ritual victory of the Barong, that is of good, which marks the end of the dance, is only temporary: tomorrow the eternal and unresolved conflict could begin again.
THE KERIS DANCE.
The end of Barong dance is like an entirely seperated performance. Also known as Keris dance, it is named after the famous Malese dagger.
The idea is based on the philosophical concept “rwa bhineda”: good and bad, evil and goodness which have always been present and have always existed together albeit in a constant and inevitably unresolved conflict. Nothing will change in the future. While man is left free to try to develop his positive attitudes and let them win over the negative ones, he must nonetheless resign himself to the fact that the presence of both good and evil is a law of nature and must be accepted.
When the dance is performed, Rangda is the evil spirit which enters the bodies of his victims, usually followers of the Barong, and pushes them to the edge of suicide.
The dancers attempt to stab themselves in the chest with their Kerises until they are finally stopped by the beneficial appearance of the Barong. It is he who will save these unfortunate beings by revealing that the notion of good and evil will always be inevitably present in the world and in everyone’s life and that they must therefore accept it.