Legong Bapang Saba
On Sunday night at 8 pm, I was privy to see one of the most amazing dance performances ever in Bali. Spearheaded by Didik Nini Thowok, a former student of Gung Raka Saba (one of the greatest Legong teachers last century) in conjunction with Anak Agung Rai Saba, Ace Robin and Nunik Anurningsih supported by Maharani Records, four major legong dances were performed.
It began with Condong, followed by Bapang (performed by Didik and Dewi, a Senior teacher as well), Lasem Lengkap, Chandra Kanta and Semara Dhana. The dancers were, I assume, all from Saba (now, watch IÂ¹ll be told they were all from ISI!). Aside from being in Legong heaven, the Pelegongan gamelan was sweet and superb (all new I was told) with most of the musicians younger rather than older, which is a tribute to the regeneration efforts in Saba.
I hadnÂ¹t seen a full Lasem performed in years (and it made me want to call up Michelle Chin, my former Legong parter from the early 80s, and begin rehearsing on the spot!) and this one was sublime. The dance style of Saba is so much more subtle than Badung and Peliatan, with an etherealness, that unless performed by good dancers, can linger on boredom for the audience. But Saba really came through on Sunday almost all of the dancers were there in their bodies and mesmerizing.
The most poignant performance of the evening was the last dance, which describes the love between the the god Semara and the goddess Ratih (akin to the western Cupid). At one point during the dance, where the dancers were facing each other and doing a slow, circular walk towards one another, the Ratih dancer began to cry. Two tears started to run down from the middle of her eyes. At first, I thought it was from the rain whipping through the stage area (it was lightening and howling with thunder) but no, it was real
tears. Their love scene (performed by two young women) was one of the most exquisite I have ever seen. One could almost feel the presence of Gung Aji Raka Saba himself.
Hopefully Maharani Records will be issuing a DVD of these dances to preserve this style and pass it on to further generations.
My only issue with this performance was that the tickets, at RP 150,000 a piece, were way beyond the budget of most dance students and teachers on the island; most of the audience were Westerners. Appreciative, but it would have been splendid if free tickets could have been made available at the dance schools.
The quality of the Saba dancers has improved 1000-fold since the Legong Festival of 1995. Thank you to all the sponsors who made this special evening happen!
For photographs (no photography was allowed, which made it so much nicer w/o all the flashes going off) and more information, see http://blog.baliwww.com/dance-drama-music/190/.