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Home » Dance, Drama & Music

Balinese Drama: In Front and Behind The Scene  

by on Wednesday, 16 May 2007No Comment | 2,060 views

The following is rough picture of how performance may originate in Bali. There is a temple feast coming on; what dancers shall be asked? “Let us fetch those good dancers from —.” Not all of them can come. “Never mind, let those come who can; we will change the story, or find another people to fit in.” so they arrive. The dresses do not fit, one is ill and cannot dance; another takes his place. The audiences are already assembled, expecting something splendid, lamps are lit. But first the dancers must eat, then they must dress. Slowly they eat and dress. Then some one says: “we really must begin” the gamelan of course already playing. Meanwhile, the chief actors are still occupied discussing the story. If you ask at this stage what the play is to be about you will only get the answer “I don’t know yet.”

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The first thing to do is to send out the condong (attending of the principal lady), who must go first and announce her mistress. A message is sent to the gamelan, to play a condong melody. She comes out, and wind deviously about the stage in the usual condong dance, uttering the usual words which the lady-in-waiting addresses to every princess: “Come out, my Lady, do not tarry. The way is made smooth, all is ready for your coming.” At this stage her mistress is only generalized princess, with a generalized title for a name. After she has been appealed to for some time in vain, this abstract lady winds her way out, and dances and converses with her attendant. She is perhaps still in ignore of her identity; in fact there was an occasion when the heroine played her part throughout without discovering who she was, though her nose had been cut off without knowing it, in the course of the play.

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Whoever she is, she will at this stage only have to dance the non-committal dance of the heroine before any actual plot has been announced, a dance consisting of a slow and devious duet with her lady-in-waiting, covering as much ground as possible, and gracefully managing the train which ripples between her much turned-out and widely crossing feet. When the audience shows the signs of boredom at hearing nothing about nothing, the two ladies sit down beside the gamelan or retreat behind the stage, and another message is received by the gamelan to play a penasar’s melody.

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The penasar and kartala (king’s attendant as well as clown) come out after a good deal of play with ceremonial umbrellas and make comic business; do eccentric dances, improvise topical jokes, perhaps begin rehearsing another type of play, cleverly imitating appropriate rhythms of the gamelan. This will probably take place without musical accompaniment. Of this, the audience can never have too much. If the comics have plenty invention in the movement, and lively gag, they can hold up crucial moment of the play’s real beginning to almost any extent. Presently the penasar show the sign of listening and waiting. He has received a hint, and begins to make his story, introducing it by question and allusion.


The two make conversation about what has gone before. The king has decided such and such a thing, there is no one so wise and so great as he. “Now the king is coming!” they expatiate his beauty, his costume, his bearing. Very often they will sit down, balancing each other, and watch him dance. To introduce him the gamelan plays a raja (kingly) melody. As he is a baris dancer, he will go through the stately movements of the baris dance. His attendants will attempt absurd imitations of the grand style, and incur his lofty displeasure by their irreverent antics. They will bring him to some spot and introduce him, changing places and curveting round him, so as to keep him always the center of the picture. They begin to speak, the raja talking only by gestures. From their conversation, the action of the play begins to be made clear.


A few familiar names will be dropped, which limit the possibilities of the story. Anew couple of attendants may come out, introducing a rival monarch, another baris dancer, or if there is a shortage of actors, the first penasar may go over to the other side. Perhaps the condong will rise now and make a few speeches. The pricess, from the foregoing conversation, will have discovered who she is, and the story can begin to be told. She knows her role, and how many tears she has to shed. We are still probably still in the garden of the palace; she and her lady are whiling away the time by playing with butterflies, or watching gold fish in a pool.


The penasar and kartala reappear, and praise the beauty of the princess and make fun of the condong. They announce the arrival of the prince, who now comes again and makes love to or quarrels with the lady. There will be a crescendo to a climax which takes a long time preparing, a brief but glorious fight between the prince and his rival for the hand of the princess will take place, death or defeat being shown by one dancer being chased off the stage by another.


material for this writing are take from Balinese Dance and Drama by Beryl De Zoete and Walter Spies

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