Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cultural Bali: Kecak Dance

Upon arriving to Ubud we immediately purchased tickets for a traditional kecak performance at the local temple. We soon found that pre-purchasing tickets isn't necessary in Bali and throughout our time in Ubud we were constantly approached to see a traditional performance.
Bali has a great variety of cultural, musical and theatrical arts ranging from gamelan musical shows to shadow puppet or wayang kulit performances to beautifully adorned balinese dance. We were looking forward to the 100 men vocal performance known as kecak due to the chanting of the "cak" in various tones and rhythmic patterns as the main performance. Several ancient stories were offered and when we asked what stories were the best or what they were about to help us decided, no clear answer was ever given so we settled on a Monday night performance because every night is a Saturday night to us so it didn't matter. However the weather wasn't buying into our "always-a-weekend" concept of life at the time and rained on and off all day, threatening to dampen our Kecak high.
We arrived at the temple and no rain. About 30 people were already seated in front of the large ceremonial gates where the performers would soon pour out of.The Kecak performances usually tell an ancient story taken from the Ramayana epics. Stories of sultans, monkey armies, mythical creatures, bewitchings, epic battles and true love. This performance was the Death of Kumbakarna and a Fire Trance Dance. We were provided nice souveniour-worthy pamphlets of the performance, which explained the history, significance and a scene breakdown of the performance. Once everyone was seated the performance began sharply at 7:30pm. First things first, the performance area was blessed and a large candelabra was placed in the middle of the performance area and lit.Soon the temple doors opened and 100 shirtless men came pouring out chanting "cak cak cak" in unison, quickly forming a circle around the candelabra. We have video footage which will be loaded soon.After several renditions of the chanting, beautifully adorned performers started to come out of the temple gates and down the stairs towards the kecak chanters. This is when the story begins. A story of two lovers torn apart by war.
Deceived by an enemyForced into battle with mythic creaturesAnd ultimately saved by the gods and the giant bird GarudaThe vocal chanting of "cak cak cak" really brought out the drama and added to the theatrical feel of the performance.Even during moments when there was no chanting
Soon the kecak performers move over to the steps of the temple and a large pile of coconut shells are placed in the middle of the stage and lit on fire.This marks the end of the kecak performance and the beginning of the Fire Trance Dance.The fire dance is performed to protect society against evil forces and epidemics. A performer carrying a large wooden horse is lulled into a trance by the repetitive sounds of the gamelan and walks through the large coconut bonfire.
scattering the firey coconut shells everywhere
After awhile the dancer fell to the ground and the performance was officially over. On the way out all the tourists with bottled water poured the water out onto his feet. And at some point it did rain, but we were so in awe of what was happening we didn't take shelter or move from our seats.

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