When in Bali you must see a traditional Balinese dance performance. One of the best places is the Royal Palace in Ubud. Here is a guide to Balinese dances.
• The Gamelan
The Gamelan is the central instrument in Balinese music and traditional orchestras are called ‘Gamelan orchestras’ which are pretty much percussion based. You’ll hear this music in the arrivals hall at the airport and at first it sounds rather uncoordinated with a ‘glong glong glong’ type of sound.
The Kecak is the best known of the traditional Balinese dances and does not feature the gamelan. A male choir provides the accompaniment. The dance itself is expresses mythological aspects local traditions and the Hindu Ramayana poem. The dance tells the story of how King Rama was persecuted by the ogre king, Rahwana forms an alliance with the monkey people of the forest to overcome his enemy. Dances last an hour and feature about a hundred dancers.
• Barong & Rangda
The Barong dance is the Balinese version of a Chinese lion dance and is very popular with tourists. It is a battle of good versus evil and the lion character (Barong) represents good and is up against the widow witch (Rangda). There are two guys who work the lion character and get very animated.
The Barong dances in tightly wound around Balinese superstition and culture and it be performed during religious ceremonies as well as for tourists. Central to its theme is the fight between the king of the forest and the forces of evil. The musical accompaniment is a gamelan orchestra with metal xylophones creating a jangly, rhythmic effect.
The Balinese have a respect for the sacred associations of the characters in the Barong dance and at the end of a performance the heads of the characters are taken to a special storage place in the temple and covered, acknowledging that the battle of good versus evil is over…for the moment. If you want to see the best performances or the Barong dance you might check out villages of Singapadu as well as Tegaltamu and Batubulan, that are 30 minutes from Denpasar.
• Kris Dance
The Kris dance comes at the end of the Barong dance and is almost like another dance entirely. Basically the followers of Barong (the good guys) have been overtaken by evil spirits and have entered a trance state. The evil Rangda taunts them and they attempt to stab themselves with their krises (traditional wavy knives) until the good Barong steps in to stop them. The magical trance state is supposed to protect them from injury.
The Legong dance is very graceful and the dancer is usually young girl, often not even in their teens.
The Baris dance is a solo warrior dance and is like a male version of the Legong.
• Ramayana Ballet
This dance follows a similar story to the Kechak dance and tells of Rama and Sita with a gamelan orchestra.
Similar to the Baris dance but one that highlights the dancers’ own abilities.
• Barong Landung
This is the annual puppet dance displayed in parts of southern Bali and on the island of Pulau Serangan.
A relatively new dance that came about in the last 80 years or so. Now it is part of the customary dances that take place in Bali.
This dance has sacred significance to Balinese and only those who behave respectfully will be allowed to watch. This dance is accompanied by a gamelan orchestra and involves dancers wearing masks, imitating the character represented by the mask. These dances are often performed at ceremonies and processions. The particular rhythms followed by the different dancers are related to the age of their characters.
This is a solo mask dance.
This is a daily dance performed at temples before offerings are made.
• Sanghyang (Fire Dance)
The Fire dance has a variety of forms but the basic idea is that it is done to drive out the evil spirits from the village. The dancers are in a trance state and a priest brings them out of it at the end. One version of this is the Sanghyang Jaran where a boy dances through and around a fire riding a sacred toy horse. Another is the Sanghyang Dedari where a couple of young girls dance gracefully, eyes closed.