Category: Dance


BARONG DANCE


Barong is probably the most well known dance. It is also another story telling dance, narrating the fight between good and evil. This dance is the classic example of Balinese way of acting out mythology, resulting in myth and history being blended into one reality.

The Barong Dance is a story about the struggle between good and evil. The good, by Barong Keket, a mythological beast with an immense coat of fur and gilded leather vestments and evil by the witch Rangda. Typically Barong enters first, cleverly danced by two men who form the front and rear, while the man in the front controls the mask. The mask itself is sacred and undergoes a blessing by the priest before the performance. Rangda enters soon after. The two characters engage in battle, at which point the Barong’s keris-bearing followers rush in to attack Rangda. The hissing witch however, uses her magical powers to turn the keris knives in upon their owners, who subsequently fall into a trance and turn their knives upon themselves.

The Barong however uses magic to protect his followers from the knives although occassionally, the dancers do get hurt which to the Balinese is a sign of displeasure by the Gods and to be taken seriously.

The story goes that Rangda, the mother of Erlangga, the King of Bali in the tenth century, was condemned by Erlangga’s father because she practiced black magic. After she became a widow, she summoned all the evil spirits in the jungle, the leaks and the demons, to come after Erlangga. A fight occurred, but she and her black magic troops were too strong that Erlangga had to ask for the help of Barong. Barong came with Erlangga’s soldiers, and fight ensued. Rangda casted a spell that made Erlangga soldiers all wanted to kill themselves, pointing their poisoned keris into their own stomachs and chests. Barong casted a spell that turned their body resistant to the sharp keris. At the end, Barong won, and Rangda ran away.

Somebody can die or get seriously injured in a Barong dance. It is said that if Rangda’s spell is too strong, a weak soldier may not be able to resist it, even with the help of Barong. He may end up hurting himself with his own keris.

The masks of Barong and Rangda are considered sacred items, and before they are brought out, a priest must be present to offer blessings by sprinkling them with holy water taken from Mount Agung, and offerrings must be presented.

At the end, the Barong triumphs and Rangda retreats to recoup her strength for the next encounter. All that is left to do is for the Pemangku, that is the priest, who sprinkles them with holy water to help the keris dancers out of their trance. The dance is lively and entertaining and not to be missed.


The most compelling part of the temple complex, however, comes from its nightly kecak and fire dance performances.

“Kecak” is derived from an old Balinese ritual called the sanghyang – a trance dance driven by its participants’ repetitive chanting. In its ancient form, the sanghyang communicated the wishes of the gods or of the ancestors.

In the 1930s, a German visitor reformatted the sanghyang into the more familiar kecak performance – doing away with the spiritualistic aspect of the dance and building it around the Hindu Ramayana epic.

No musical instruments are used in a kecak performance – instead, you find about thirty bare-chested men sitting in a circle, uttering “chak… chak… chak” rhythmically and repetitively. The total effect is trance-inducing – repetitive voices and outlandish costumes creating a trippy multimedia experience.

The performance plays out as the sun sets, and the culmination involves a giant fire display that is integral to the plot. (Visitors wearing flammable material may want to get a seat higher up in the stands.)

Rama and Sita

To help those unfamiliar with the Ramayana, synopsis sheets are handed out to audience members before the show.

The plot goes like this:

Rama, a wise prince and the legal heir of the throne of Ayodha, is exiled from the his father Dasarata’s realm. He is accompanied by his beautiful wife Sita and his loyal younger brother Laksamana.

While crossing the enchanted forest of Dandaka, the demon king Rahwana spots Sita and lusts after her. Rahwana’s deputy Marica transforms himself into a golden deer to distract Rama and Laksamana.

Rahwana then transforms into an old man to fool Sita into stepping away from a magic circle of protection set by Laksamana – thus fooled, Sita is spirited away to Rahwana’s realm of Alengka.

Rama and Laksamana discover the deception too late; lost in the forest, they encounter the monkey king 

Hanoman, who swears his allegiance and goes off in search of Sita.

Hanoman finds Sita in Alengka. The monkey king takes Rama’s ring to Sita as a token of his contact with her husband. Sita gives Hanoman her hairpin to give to Rama, along with a message that she is waiting for his rescue.

Hanoman marvels at the beauty of Alengka, but begins to destroy it. Rahwana’s giant servants capture Hanoman, and bind him to be burned. Hanoman uses his magical powers to escape from certain death. Here, the performance ends.

Despite the historical and cultural implications of the performance, the Uluwatu kecak performance is strictly for the tourists. The fiery escape of Hanoman is played up for visual effect, and the actors who play Hanoman, Rahwana, and the giants ham it up mightily. The night I watched, Hanoman went up to a bald German tourist in the front row and rubbed the man’s head, to everyone’s amusement.