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Home » Ubud » The Popular Dramatic Balinese Mask Dance

The Popular Dramatic Balinese Mask Dance

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Overview

The Topeng or Mask Dance on the island of Bali is one of the most popular dance-drama loved by the Balinese as it tells about local lore and historical tales of royal lineage performed in scenes of every day life.

The Topeng dance is both entertaining at the same time it instills profound wisdom. It has both slapstick comedy and sophisticated refinement.

Popular comedy and wisdom is presented by the comic actors who often digress from the main story line to insert jokes on current issues or latest gossips usually in the coloquial Balinese language,that the audience just loves.  For this reason, a Topeng performance can be drawn out for hours   

The first dancers usually to appear are the pengelembar or introductory characters, depicting ministers at the royal court.

Next is the penasar, the most important character, since he is the storyteller, royal servant, stage director and at times also music conductor, all in one.   He extols the virtues of the king in the high Balinese language. He is then accompanies by his sidekick Kartala, and the two engage in slapstick antics. Both wear half masks, covering forehead and nose only to allow easier speech.

Finally the king arrives, who enters with refined steps and gestures, denoting his royal status.  Wearing a full mask, the king does not speak, as the penasar translates the king’s gestures and commands.

The story usually tells about a kingdom to be conquered or a person to be rescued. The members of the opposing kingdom then appear, portrayed in all kinds of costumes and guise. Some with long teeth, there are burlesque women, at times even comic looking tourists appear on the scene. This is when the audience goes wild with laughter at the actors’ costumes and masks and jokes bantered about.

In between all this, however religious values on piety and honesty are always inserted.  

It is through the Topeng Dance that Balinese learn their history and current issues and values to adhere to, that are explained to the people in a very popular and entertaining manner.  

At the end of the story, Good invariably wins over Evil, where the bad guys retreat in defeat.

Although the Topeng Dance has actually existed before the arrival of Hindu and Buddhism on Java and Bali, however, the art has taken grown only since the 15th century and has remained popular with grass root communities until today.  

Stories are often taken from  the Babad – or classical history, but  popular are also stories on local history,heroes,  popular myths, and fables, and are normally accompanied by the gamelan orchestra. In Topeng, there is a conscious attempt to include many, sometimes contradictory, aspects of the human experience: the sacred and the profane, beauty and ugliness, refinement and caricature

Bali knows a number of Topeng or Mask Performances:

The Topeng Pajegan is played by a solo actor who represents several characters. Topeng dancers are masters in expressing different characters, as they have to make the static mask come alive with different personalities portrayed both through gestures and body language.

The Topeng Panca is played by four or five dancers, each dancer portraying a particular character as requred by the story.

The Topeng Prembon show mixed characters taken from the Topeng Panca and the dance-drama Arja. In the Topeng Bondres, comic characters are a dominant feature.

While best loved is the Topeng Tua, which is a solo performance, where the actor expresses dance movements of an old man. .  

In Bali, there are sacred Topeng dance-dramas that may only be performed at religious ceremonies and rituals, while others are profane. Such masks can be bought in many souvenier shops especially around Mas and Ubud, or can be made to order.

 

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Oct 2014

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