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Bali 1928: Gamelan Gong Kebyar – Emergence of Kebyar – Part 3  

by on Saturday, 12 September 2009No Comment | 1,750 views


Ida Bagus Surya is credited as being the leader of the Bubunan gamelan, assisted by I Nengah Dangin, an expert in kakawin literature, translation and dance. Simpen goes on to describe the Bubunan dance at the same 1913 event in greater detail, including “tari lepas, sambil duduk” with circling movements performed while in sitting position and using a fan, performed in the middle of the gamelan. He describes the music including ocet–ocetan and cecandétan, syncopated interlocking techniques characteristic of the new kebyar aesthetic. Simpen credits Busungbiu as the next kebyar innovator of the dauh enjung ‘region west’ of Singaraja, followed by Ringdikit, Kedis, Bantiran and east ‘dangin enjung’ to Jagaraga and Sudaji. He credits Ringdikit dancers as the first to switch from squatting to standing position “like légong,” with two dancers performing together.

An additional perspective is provided in the article by Sudhyadmaka Sugriwa, quoted above. The author’s father, scholar I Gusti Bagus Sugriwa wrote in 1914 of a dancer in North Bali named Ngakan Kuta who experimented with dancing improvisationally along with the music of gong kebyar following his own intuition. “And this was how gong kebyar began to be performed along with dance” (my paraphrased translation).

Pandé Madé Sukerta conducted numerous interviews in the North and describes the process of shaping the gong kebyar ensemble as initially taking place in Ringdikit, Bubunan and Busungbiu, then Gobleg, Bungkulan, Sawan, Kalianget and Seririt. Soon after, Bantiran, Tabanan became the vehicle for spreading kebyar to Pangkung and South Bali.47 Arthanegara places Bantiran’s gong kebyar at Puri Subamia in 1908 but does not mention a plebon ‘cremation’ [could this have been an earlier event?], adding that the gamelan group in Pangkung had already brought in a kebyar teacher from Pujungan by 1910. He also credits I Wayan Sukra (from Mel Kangin, Tabanan) with composing the music for Igel Trompong and Igel Jongkok (later called Kebyar Duduk) in 1915.48 In our discussions with Wayan Begeg of Pangkung, he agreed with two of these earlier dates (and was most likely one original source of Arthanegara’s chronology)49, but places Gong Bantiran at the Puri Subamia cremation in 1913 or 1915. Begeg also believes that Marya was dancing Igel Trompong in 1915 (creating the dance in tandem with Sukra’s music) and Igel Jongkok by 1919 or 1920 with music composed by Sukra (1894–1960) and Wayan Gejir. This chronology is credible in that an eighteen year–old choreographer would not have been very suprising, but there are differing views concerning this sequence of Kebyar Duduk and Kebyar Trompong and Bandem tentatively reverses the chronology. Dr. Djelantik’s account of his conversation with Marya also implies that Kebyar Duduk preceded Trompong, although he does not directly quote Marya.

In any case as late as 1935, when Spies and de Zoete wrote their scrupulously detailed Dance and Drama in Bali, the single word kebyar was still all that was used to name Marya’s dances, though people referred to the dance informally as igel jongkok ‘squatting dance’—but not the Malay word ‘duduk’ which, in any case, means ‘sitting’. As late as 1958, the program notes for Gong Pangkung’s U.S. tour50 included Marya performing “Igel Trompong” and his student I Gusti Ngurah Raka dancing “Kebiar”, described as “the famous sitting dance.” And only recently while watching the 1930s film of his friend I Wayan Sampih performing Igel Jongkok, ninety–two year–old gandrung dancer I Madé Sarin recently referred to it as “kebyar Bantiran.”51 I Wayan Aryasa tells us that the Indonesian (Malay)language term Kebyar Duduk was not used until I.G.B.N. Pandji and others at the conservatory KOKAR adapted to a pan–Indonesian trend in the early 1960s.52 With regard to what is now known as Marya’s Tari Trompong or Kebyar Trompong, Spies and de Zoete describe as a “half–dance, the name of which is Maktepanggoel,”53 which means “handling mallets.” In fact many of Marya’s peers point out that he would improvise his igel jongkok and trompong dances to a wide range of new kebyar musical creations as soon as they were composed and kept his choreography ever–changing and spontaneous.

Kebyar enjoyed abrupt bursts of sound, shifts in tempo, rapid stops and a style of fast successions of themes within a single piece, in contrast with the more evenly colotomic and structured traditional repertoire of gamelan gong gdé. Buléléng’s gamelan clubs excelled at dynamics and contrast and as kebyar spread throughout Bali, a Bali tenggah ‘central Bali’ style emerged, with Belaluan (Denpasar district55) and Pangkung as the most influential, with Peliatan ascending to mutual prominence in 1929. Wayan Beratha recently observed that as they evolved Belaluan’s cara pukul ‘style of playing’ was faster than that of Pangkung, while Peliatan’s was even faster.


Kebyar interpreted into dance a new musical form—a roller coaster of melody and rhythm. In earlier solo male dances such as the martial baris and masked jauk, the gamelan would follow and reflect the movements of the dancer and Marya’s kebyar developed this dynamic in new ways. Marya created a new equilibrium, with each dance gesture dependent on the music more blatantly than in légong. His slender physique was considered perfect for interpreting each nuance of the gamelan’s dynamics. With Marya as performer kebyar grew over time as his choreographic and musical ideas influenced one another. Although some Balinese classicists failed to appreciate his departure from traditional form, Marya’s work has not only endured but has spawned generations of choreographic heirs and become the dominant choreographic idiom. Along with other early kebyar dancers including his students Gusti Ngurah Raka and Ni Ceteg, Marya worked closely with the famed gamelan gong kebyar orchestra of Pangkung and soon became associated with the gamelan gong kebyar of Belaluan. Two of Marya’s most renowned kebyar students were I Wayan Sampih (from Sayan) and I Wayan Rindi of Banjar Lebah, Denpasar, both of whom also studied with I Gusti Ngurah Raka, Marya’s student from Tabanan.

Gender roles were breaking down as women portrayed refined male characters in arja dance opera and jangér, both of which had been all–male at their inception (males continued to dominate female roles in the classical gambuh until the 1960s). Marya had been trained in the male dances jauk and baris, in addition to gandrung—the male version of a female jogéd dance—as well as the female role of sisya for the Calonarang magic drama. In creating Igel Trompong and Kebyar (Igel Jongkok), he created a banci (hermaphrodite) style incorporating male and female qualities. This contrasted with gandrung in which the dancing boy—often arousing erotic feelings amongst the male audience—looked convincingly like a girl(included as a video file on CD#3) or even gambuh, jangér and arja, where the male was playing a female character. So Marya’s banci idea was not at all alien, but rather an innovative way of melding male and female characteristics in a new way.

Marya either invented, or at the very least, brought to a stunning level of virtuosity the radical choreographic idea of centering so much of his kebyar movement on the ground in very low squats with sinuous choreography. But he also helped instigate and spark a whole new kind of energy and interaction in music and dance. In the 1930s, McPhee and some Balinese were critical of many of kebyar’s innovations, but Spies and de Zoete had very positive insights into Marya and the new aesthetic: “the players, in order that they might see each other, took a new formation, facing each other across a space about eight feet square which is the stage of the kebyar dancer… In kebyar the dancer is dependent on the gamelan, he exhibits not himself but the music, projecting every mood and nuance of rhythm…the sitting posture seems somehow significant in its dependence on the gamelan…seated in the small square bounded on all sides by the instruments, he seems to meditate on the music, to gather it into himself…he is moved by it, drawn by it, driven by it, he has no action independent of it.”

As a counterpoint to this exegisis it should be mentioned that Wayan Begeg has stressed to us Marya’s insistence that the gamelan must mengiringi ‘follow’ his dancing. Marya did not use a consistent pakem ‘choreography’ (a fact confirmed by Begeg, I Wayan Rindi, Ni Ketut Arini and other students).57 Begeg tells us that Marya’s style no longer exists. So what was this style? “In the old days with Pak Marya dancing and me playing the music, he would say, ‘when I dance, the music accompanies me. I don’t follow the music’. The relationship was basically the same as today only now it is more like a contest between gamelan and dancer. With Marya, as a musician I would be watching the jiwa spirit of the dance; if it is sedih ‘sad’ and lemas ‘soft, gentle’ we are also lemas; if it is slow, we are slow.” Begeg asserts that the most important quality of Marya’s performance aesthetic was that the dancer was free to change tempo and mood, and that this impulse would trigger an immediate response in the drummer who would lead the gamelan into the new tempo or dynamic—somewhat like the relationship between gamelan and topéng or baris dancer. A baris and topéng dancer is in a sense freer because the music is an ostinato accompaniment as opposed to a composition with structured thematic development. But the nature of Marya’s kebyar allowed the dancer to elaborate his movement with more kembangan ‘variations’ as well as a range of emotions. In Wayan Begeg’s opinion this was a creative process more intimate (between dancer and musicians), spirited, flexible, and spontaneous than kebyar performance practice today.

This new spatial arrangement described by DeZoete and Spies—architecture of sound—gave the musicians and dancers a kinetic glue, as well as optimum eye contact, enabling sudden changes into unexpected musical terrain—the very essence of kebyar.

As if the gamut of perspectives surrounding kebyar’s development was not sufficient, an unexpected range of insights was made available to our research team in 2008 when a collection of more than three hours of films made by Colin McPhee in 1930s Bali was discovered in the at University of California, Los Angeles, Ethnomusicology Archive—untouched for almost fifty years. Another collection of films made by Miguel Covarrubias in Bali between 1930 and 1933 was made available to us as well. One perspective afforded by this newly–examined film footage is of the variable placement and evolving role of the kendang players. In traditional gong gdé court ensembles the two drummers are seen way in the back, behind the two rows of trompong players and just in front of the several gong. In some of the gamelan palégongan one kendang player is in between the two gendér in the first row of the ensemble with the second drummer just behind him. But McPhee’s photograph of Wayan Lotring and his second drummer show them in front of and slightly distanced from the other musicians, giving them more perspective to watch the dancers and lead the group’s every newly composed phrase. As described above, one of kebyar’s innovations was creating a closed rectangle within which the drummers would sit facing the dancer. In several film sequences (including the Covarrubias film of Marya with Gong Belaluan) the kendang players—Madé Regog and Gusti Alit Oka—are in the center facing the dancer, with their backs to the audience. Another (posed) McPhee photograph of Gong Belaluan shows the gamelan faced open to the audience, without trompong, and with the same drummers in front and at opposite sides of the gamelan, facing each other. But a film of Gong Peliatan on the Ed Sullivan Show—during their 1952 tour produced by John Coast—shows the drummers at each side of the curtain from where the dancers come out, facing the audience and viewing the dancers from behind. This is the arrangement used by gamelan kebyar today, reflecting the frontal proscenium–style perspective of tourist performances and contemporary Balinese concert halls in contrast with the traditional kalangan ‘performance space’ open to the audience on three sides. These shifting positions reflect a changing architecture of sound as well as an evolving role for the kendang players as pangenter ‘leaders’ or conductors, featured performers and even stars. But positioning kendang players behind the dancers where they are less able to observe facial and kinetic expression may also reflect the element of improvisation being de–emphasized in favor of fixed choreography. Traditionally, topéng and baris dances place the gamelan facing the dancer while légong places the musicians behind the dancer. As mentioned earlier, topéng and baris are male dances in which dancer leads the gamelan with changing dynamics and sudden stops ‘angsel’, while légong’s dancers follow the music.

To be continued………..

Notes by Edward Herbst for the CD of Bali 1928: Gamelan Gong Kebyar of Belaluan, Pangkung and Belaluan (

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