the old culture from balinese and all i know will show in this blog

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Topeng Dance at Balinese

In Bali, age is no barrier to movement. Dancers learn their craft as children--often as young as age 4--and may continue performing well into old age. Mature performers are revered for the mastery they bring to their form. A program presented by the World Music Institute featured several highly accomplished movers and musicians ranging in age from their late 30s to their early 80s.

The most senior of these, octogenarian Ni Ketut Cenik, presented her Joged Pingitan, an excerpt from an hour-long solo choreography. She began moving her head so subtly that it appeared still, while the flowers on her headdress swayed in time with the music. Throughout the dance, she combined stillness and motion in ways that heightened a sense of phrasing and stimulated the audience's attention. With her serene smiles, delicate shimmies, and fluttering fan, Cenik cast a teasing spell of seduction.

Contrasting this portrait of feminine grace, I Made Djimat (Cenik's son) performed Baris Tunggal, a character study of a male warrior. He displayed a commanding sense of control with his balancing maneuvers and his quivering hands. BALINESE DANCES OFTEN EMPHASIZE EYE MOVEMENTS; IN HIS BARIS, DJIMAT'S EYES APPEARED TO SCAN THE HORIZON FOR DANGER, REGISTERING A RANGE OF EMOTIONS FROM ALARM AND FEAR TO PLEASURE AND EXCITEMENT.

The program included several other excerpts from the classical Balinese dance repertoire. In "Jobog" from the Legong Keraton, Ni Wayan Sekariani (Cenik's granddaughter) and Ni Made Sarniani portrayed two monkey generals in a story from the Hindu epic Ramayana. The dancers entered and knelt on opposite sides of the stage. They swayed; their fingers trembled and their heads swiveled, all in the exact unison typical of the legong genre. (The "leg" in legong means "gentle swaying motion," while "gong" refers to the musical accompaniment.) At the duet's climax, the tempo changed and the two shifted from unison to mirroring patterns. Brandishing tree branches at each other, they engaged in a stylized battle.

In Legong Keraton, as in much Balinese dance, the movement is closely associated with the intricate rhythms produced by the gamelan ensemble. Multiple levels of articulations in the face, eyes, hands, arms, hips, and feet ate coordinated to reflect layers of percussive sounds. The Kebyar Duduk, originally choreographed by I Nyoman Mario in 1925 and performed here by the lithe Ida Bagus Suteja Manuaba, interpreted the music with a finely nuanced physicality. Much of the time, Manuaba remained in a kneeling position while he wove together a range of facial expressions, gestures, and fan manipulations. Periodically, he rose slightly and, walking low to the ground, traced circular pathways. Later in the program, Manuaba joined Sarniani for Oleg Tumulilingan, a dance created by Mario in kebyar style in 1953 that depicts two bumblebees in a garden.

The second half of the program featured a prembon-style dance-drama called Putri Cina (The Chinese Queen of Bali). Prembon, which means "combination," melds traditional forms of Balinese dance-theater, including gambuh, baris, arja, topeng, and parwa, with modern elements. It emerged as a genre in the 1940s and is quite popular in Bali today. As a prelude, Djimat performed two topeng (masked dance) character portraits--including a rough, white-haired gent who rudely blew his nose. The drama tells the story of a king who takes a second wife because his Chinese queen is unable to bear children. The drama's storytelling had a broad, comedic style. Performers interrupted the narrative to address the audience, occasionally in English, and at least once in Italian. Sekariani, portraying Dewi Danu, the king's proposed second wife, wailed and ranted loudly against the existence of his first wife, to humorous effect. Though much of the dialogue was incomprehensible to this New York audience, and the style of action unfamiliar, Putri Cina did evoke a sense of good fun. With its coarser characterizations, it also provided a contrast to the elegant refinement so wonderfully pictured earlier in the evening.