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From Sacred to Profane: Barong and Rangda Dance  

by on Saturday, 4 August 2007One Comment | 3,011 views

Of all the form of Balinese dance, the Barong and Rangda performance which involves trance possession were the most fascinating to early western residents and visitors. Followers of the Barong frequently practiced self-stabbing during a performance, to the great interest of scholars and curiosity seekers alike. In the early of 1930s, Walter Spies directed many visitors to the villages of Pagutan and Tegal Tamu in Gianyar Regency, where variants of Calonarang dance-drama were performed. Many special performances were commissioned by Walter Spies and his guest, and in Pagutan, especially, Calonarang performances become something of a local industry, three or more might be requested in a single week.

With the resumption of tourism in 1948, the Bali Hotel in Denpasar requested that a Barong performance be specially created to suit the needs of the tourist trade. In response, a group of traditional artists led by I Made Kredek and I Wayan Geria established the form of Barong performance as it is seen by the tourist today. Carefully tailored to a 1-hour performance, the show is performed with unconsecrated mask with minimal offerings to protect the dancers. Sacred mask or weapons are not employed. It is rare that a performer actually enters trance state in the performance. The company is made up of hamlet’s (banjar) members, who divide the profits monthly, after setting aside a percentage of general fund.

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Calonarang performance on The Annual Bali Arts Festival 2006

Although the performance is based on a Mahabharata story called ‘Sudamala’ or ‘Kunti Sraya’, the mask and general format are taken from Javanese Panji story of Calonarang performance. In this plot, which has been standardized so that a synopsis can be distributed to the audience, two Rangda masks are employed, worn by the goddess Durga and her servant-priestesses, Kalika. When the Barong appears at the end of the play, his followers practice simulated self-stabbing and other trance-like behavior according to precise timetable. After the tourist depart, everything come back to normal.

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Calonarang performance on The Annual Bali Arts Festival 2006

Since the more exotic and sensational forms of Balinese dance are in the sacred category, there has been increasing pressure to exhibit sacred dances for commercial purposes.

Material for this writing are taken from ‘ Balinese Dance in Transition’ by I Made Bandem and Fredrick Eugene deBoer.

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