Destinations in Indonesia
Bali’s Dramatic Kecak Dance
The Kecak Dance is an especially unique and one of the most dramatic of all Balinese dances. A combination of dance and drama, the Kecak dance depicts the Hindu epic, “Ramayana,” and tells the story of Prince Rama, who with the help of the monkey-king Hanoman defeats the evil King Rahvana to rescue his Princess Sita. Kecak also has roots in Sanghyang, a sacred ritual based on the idea that during the performance, hyangs, or spiritual entities will enter and possess the bodies of the dancers.
The dance begins just as the glowing sun slowly sets beyond the horizon at sea. To catch this dramatic moment, the stage is placed with the temple of Tanah Lot or Uluwatu as background. A chorus of 150 men clad in checkered cloths around their waists, representing an army of monkeys, utter percussive sounds. They sit in concentric circles, leaving an open arena with an oil torch in its center.
As the sky darkens, the burning flames of the torch become the only natural lighting of this cacophonous play, creating a truly mystical atmosphere, illuminating the performers and audience alike in a haunting glow.
The circular ensemble sways rhythmically back and forth and waves their hands as the drama unfolds, yet above the chants of the swaying masses, the narrator’s voice can be heard, telling the tale. As the plot progresses, the ring of acapella percussionists enhance the performance of the lead actors in the center by acting as the armies in the battle scenes, and even unite as an enormous, twisting serpent in the performance’s final climax.A triumph of style and emotion over actual story, the Kecak dance is sure to keep every viewer captivated for every second of the show.
The story takes an episode of the great Ramayana epic. It tells about the abduction of Princess Sita by the giant Rahwana when Prince Rama and Princess Sita were wondering in the forests. Prince Rama leaves his wife to chase a golden deer. But first he draws a circle around her, which he tells her not to step out from. Rahwana sees her and through ruse succeeds to abduct her to his palace. In his search for his wife, King Rama meets the monkey king Hanoman who helps him. Hanoman’s monkey army burns Rahwana’s palace, and so the two lovers are happily reunited.
Unlike other Balinese dances, the Kecak is not performed to the accompaniment of Gamelan, which is the Balinese “orchestra.” Instead it is enacted to the sounds of 150 or more male voices chanting “chak-achak-achak,” hence giving the dance its name. Another unique factor is that the Kecak is also one of the only dances that was created for the sole purpose of entertaining visitors. It is hardly ever watched by the Balinese themselves.
Kecak was originally a trance ritual accompanied by a male chorus. In the 1930’s, the German painter and musician Walter Spies took a deep interest in the ritual while he was living in Bali. He then worked together with Balinese dancer Wayan Limbak to recreate it into a drama, combining themes and movements from the traditional Sanghyang exorcism rituals with portions of the Hindu epic, Ramayana. The intention was to create a dance that was both authentic to Balinese traditions, yet appealing to Western audiences.
Wayan Limbak later toured the globe with a troupe of Balinese performers, thus popularizing the dance and making it famous throughout the world.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu is one of Bali’s 9 main temples, and is one of the places you can personally witness the Kecak Dance. The temple is perched at the edge of a steep cliff, overlooking the crashing waves 70 meters below. Originally a very small temple, Pura Luhur Uluwatu was first expanded by a Javanese sage during the 11th century.
As the temple is sacred ground, one must be properly dressed before entering, as respect to the Balinese Hindus. Sarongs are available free at the entrance for women wearing clothing that does not cover their knees. Visitors to the temple can feel free to roam about and explore the temple grounds, but the central courtyard can only be entered during special rituals.
The Kecak dance is performed at the temple every evening at 6:00 p.m. in an open-air arena to the backdrop of the ember sky, as the glowing red sun sinks beneath the horizon. Tickets to the dance can be purchased for approximately IDR 75,000. Visitors should note that during high season, tickets are often sold out and should be booked a few days in advance.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu is located on the island of Bali, about 45 minutes from Nusa Dua, or 1 hour 15 minutes from Kuta or Tuban area.
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