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Home > All About Bali > Dances & Drama
Dances & Drama
Dance is the main art from Balinese culture as well as the important part of nearly every ritual in Bali. It is an integral part of Balinese religion and culture. Dance is performed at the main temple festivals and ceremonies of the cycle of life and death.

Balinese dance goes as far back as Balinese written history. With the exception of the trance dances, much of the Balinese dance heritage originating from Java.

Balinese dance can not be separated from religion. Even dances for the tourists are always preceded by a small offering of food and flowers. Before performing, a dancer goes to pray at his family shrine to beseech the holy inspiration from the gods.

In the dance context, dance fulfills a number of specific functions as:
a channel for the visiting gods or demonic gods, the dancers being then a sort of living repository; these are the trance dances,
a welcome for the visiting gods,
an entertainment for the visiting gods.
Besides its religious function, dance and drama have also a religious content. Balinese cultural memory has been transmitted through drama. The episodes performed are usually relevant with the rites taking place; during a wedding one performs a wedding story, and at a death ritual a visit to hell by the heroes.

Besides costumes, male and female roles are identified mostly by the accentuation of the movements. Women’s legs are bent and huddled together, the feet open, so as to reveal a sensual arching of the back. While the men, their legs are arched and their shoulders pulled up, with sharper gestures, so as to give the impression of power.

Dance movements come out of each other in a continuum of gestures which has no break and no jumping - except for some demonic or animal characters. The expression is completed by mimicry of the face. Even the eyes are dancing.
Arja Dance-Drama
The dialogue of the Arja consists of songs, so this dance-drama is the Balinese dance-opera. Arja is a very popular performance in Bali. In the past, it used to be performed by men only, although the main character is the princess. Nowadays, Arja dance-opera is performed by women, except the clowns who are played by men.

Arja dance-drama developed around 1880 and its tragic themes basically are derived from the classical romances of the kingdoms of East Java-Kediri, Singasari and Majapahit. Although Arja dance-drama is a favorite among the villagers, it is difficult to follow for those who cannot understand the clowns' translations.

Arja dance-opera is filled with sentimentality and melodrama. Like so many great love stories, there is always some tragic issue at stake between two lovers such as their families prohibit the marriage, a jealous rival makes war on the hero, the princess is captured, the hero falls in love with another woman while under a magic spell. There are always long scenes of painful misery. After endless episodes of intrigue and misfortune, the lovers are at last reunited.
Baris Dance
The word Baris means line, in the sense of a line of soldiers, and refers to the warriors who fought for the kings of Bali. Baris dance is a solo warrior dance which originally was a religious ritual dance, the dedication of warriors and their weapons during a temple feast.

The dancer must go through hard training to obtain the skill and flexibility that symbolizes the courteous style of the dance. The dancer must convey the characteristics of a warrior such as fierceness, pride, alertness, compassion, and regret. Baris dance is accompanied by a gamelan orchestra, and the gamelan must be entirely in tune to the changing moods of the warrior's will.
Barong Dance
Barong is probably the most well known dance. It is also another story telling dance, narrating the fight between good and evil. This dance is the classic example of Balinese way of acting out mythology, resulting in myth and history being blended into one reality.

The story is about Rangda, the mother of Erlangga, the King of Bali in the 10th century, who was condemned by Erlangga's father because she practiced black magic. After she became a widow, she summoned all the evil spirits in the jungle, the leaks and the demons, to come after Erlangga. A fight occurred, but she and her black magic troops were too strong that Erlangga had to ask for the help of Barong, the magical protector of Balinese villages. Barong came with Erlangga's soldiers, and fight ensued. Rangda casted a spell that made Erlangga soldiers all wanted to kill themselves, pointing their poisoned keris into their own stomachs and chests. Barong casted a spell that turned their body resistant to the sharp keris. At the end, Barong won, and Rangda ran away.

The masks of Barong and Rangda are considered sacred items. Before they are brought out, a priest must be present to offer blessings by sprinkling them with holy water taken from Mount Agung, and offerrings must be presented.

The are several versions of the Barong Dance during Galungan Kuningan festivals. There are Barong Ket, Barong Asu (Dog Barong), Barong Macan (Tiger Barong), Barong Gajah (Elephant Barong), Barong Bangkal (Pig Barong) - wanders from door to door to cleanse the territory of evil influences.
Barong Landung
Barong Landung is different from other Barong dances in Bali. In Barong Landung, the two dancers do not take the figure of animals, but of the two giant puppets, a male and a female. (Landung means tall).

The male giant barong is called Jero Gede (big person) and the female giant barong is called Jero Luh (female person). Each barong is played by a man. Jero Gede has a frightening black face, while Jero Luh has a comical white or yellow face. Together they perform a comic, opera sung in Balinese, with a story usually taken from history.

Barong Landung is derived from the folktale. On Nusa Penida Island, once lived an incestuous giant demon, Jero Gede Mecaling. One day, he went to Bali Island, followed by a horde of devils. He landed in South Bali in the form of a barong and waited there while the devils went inland to destroy. The people frightened and consulted a priest who told them to create another barong like Jero Gede Mecaling to scare away the demon. The people then made a big barong and succeeded in frightening the giant demon back to Nusa Penida. Since then, the barong has been used to exorcise illness and evil spirits.

Barong Landung is usually performed on Galungan days, around Denpasar and Serangan Island. In Southern Bali, Barong Landung is accompanied by smaller puppets which play the roles of prince and princess.
Calon Arang Dance
Calon Arang Dance refers to the struggle between Rangda (Calon Arang) and the great king Airlangga. Calon Arang was a widow of Girah who gave birth to a daughter in the jungle. Her daughter grew up to be the famed beauty Ratna Menggali. Calon Arang wanted her daughter to marry a prince from Airlangga's palace. However, no prince came along. Infuriated by this, Calon Arang learned the art of black magic and practiced it against the kingdom, causing many people to die.

When the king Airlangga heard of the epidemic in Girah, he consulted his high priest, Mpu Bharadah. The priest then sent his son to propose Ratna Menggali. Calon Arang was pleased, the curse ended, and the couple wed.

Calon Arang inscribed her black magic secret on a lontar (palmleaf book). One day, her son-in-law found it and gave it to his father. When Calon Arang found out that Mpu Bharadah had learned her secrets, she was furious and declared war upon him. The priest had no choice but to fight and, in a deadly struggle, destroyed the widow by casting a spell. Before she died, Calon Arang asked forgiveness. Mpu Bharadah forgave her and showed her the way to heaven.

Before Calon Arang Dance is performed by midnight, the audiences are gathered, listening to the Calon Arang music, played by a full legong orchestra amplified with large bamboo flutes. Offerings are made earlier and consultations are held so as not to offend Rangda (Calon Arang) and to determine whether it is safe to perform the dance which begins after midnight and lasts until dawn.
Cekepang Dance
Cekepang dance is originated from Eastern Bali and rarely performed outside Karangasem region. This dance is still performed in some regions in Lombok, a heritage of the days when Lombok was ruled by the kings of Karangasem.

Cekepang dance tells a story of Arjuna Wiwaha, a classical Hindu literature. The song, music, dance and costume of Cekepang are spectacular.
Cupak Dances
Cupak is an old Balinese dance drama, which was originated from Kediri Kingdom of East Java. Although it is performed as a comic opera, Cupak dance is really an epic tale of jealousy, heroic actions, and betrayal.

The main character is a greedy man who has a huge belly named Cupak and his handsome younger brother, Grantang. One day, the beloved daughter of the king of Kediri, Mustikaning Daha, has been kidnapped. The king announces that whoever finds her daughter may become king. Cupak and Grantang determine to look for her.

A monkey informed the brothers that the princess is kidnapped by a witch who likes to eat flesh. Led by the monkey, Cupak and Grantang go into the dark forest.

They meet the witch and the fight follows. In the battle, Grantang, the princess, and the witch all fall into a well. Grantang defeats the witch, but just as Grantang is about to come out of the well, Cupak pulls the rope, saving the princess but letting his brave brother fall back into the well.
Cupak then goes to Kediri to tell the king how he himself killed the witch and rescued the princess. The king offers Cupak whatever he would like. Cupak of course asks for food: two mounds of rice and one suckling pig which he eats all himself.

In the meantime, Grantang manages to climb out of the well on a ladder made from the witch's bones. He meets Cupak, but Cupak refuses to recognize him and has him thrown into the sea. Grantang is saved by a fisherman who takes care of him to health. Before Cupak is about to be crowned as king, Grantang challenges him to a fight. Grantang defeats Cupak easily that leads him to wed the princess.
Drama Gong
This popular dance-drama was created in the late 1960s. In Drama Gong, acting is the most important part while music and dance are downplayed. This dance-drama is the occasion for the Balinese people to socialize, therefore, Drama Gong has become more popular than Arja Dance.
In the past, the sacred Gambuh dance was performed at ceremonies, usually in the kingdom's central pavilion or the center yard of a temple. Prior to the performance, respects are paid to the gods in order to ensure a smooth and successful show.

The gambuh is the oldest classical dance of Bali. This dance is known as a tribute to the king's relatives. The gambuh drama is about the adventures of Panji’s search for his lost beloved across the kingdoms of Eastern Java. Its movements reflect the dances from Hindu Java in the reign of Majapahit Empire, characterized by particular eye movements, a typical feature of Balinese dance in the pre-Hindu era.

The artistry of the Gambuh is enhanced by a gamelan pegambuhan orchestra, dominated by the sound of bamboo flute.
Gebug Ende (War Dance)
Gebug Ende which means beating the shield (ende) is usually performed by two to sixty male dancers who dance and fight in pairs. Each dancer carries a long rattan stick as a weapon and a shield (ende). During the performance, the two dancers try to beat one another with the rattan stick while using ende to protect themselves.

Gebug Ende is quite unique as it has certain rules that have to be followed by the contestants. Led by a jury, this dance starts with two dancers, while the rest sit in a circle, cracking jokes and singing, while waiting their turns. The jury decides which of the two contestants loses the game and has to leave the stage. Then, the next dancers will be called up to the stage. This continues until all have had a turn. Sometimes the fight becomes very fierce and the dancers get thrown of the stage. Bruises and wounds are common in this dance.
Ghopala Dance
Ghopala dance was created in 1984 and usually performed by five youngster dancers. The dance portrays the world of children herdsmen who joyfully meet and play along the boundaries of rice fields while tending their cows.

Their lives are filled with happiness as they dance and play in a way which highlights their individual characters. They never tire of their duties as herdsmen, devotedly defending the lives of their cattle.
Janger Dance
Janger Dance is a folk dance which was introduced to Bali in the 30’s. The dance starts with two girl singers who appear on the stage wearing beautiful, floral crowns. They move forward, allowing another pair to enter, until twelve girls have filled on stage. Slowly, they kneel opposite each other, cocking their heads and darting their eyes to accent the rhythm of the orchestra.

As the singing continues, twelve young men silently repeat the girls' entrance with deliberate and strong movements. All men have painted moustaches and bear the self assured look of an aristocrat. During the dance, all the men move aggressively with quick shouts of "O beh! O beh! Dinga dinga ding janger-ger!" while the women sing and sway from side to side.
Jauk Dance
Jauk Dance is a classical solo mask dance dated from the 18th century, in which the dancer wears fearsome mask of the raksasa (giant) or demon. The dance played episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics in the old Kawi language.

The dancer's aim is to express the character revealed in the appearance of the mask that of a strong, forceful personality. The Jauk dancer's demonic mask is colored a violent red, or sometimes white, with thick black moustache, bulging eyes, and an eerie smile. As his whole face is covered by a frightening mask, the Jauk dancer must convey his emotions solely through his movements and gestures.

Other characteristics of the costume are gloves with long nails and high headdress with colorful pompoms and decoration. Jauk dancer's movements are very much similar to Baris dance, but the manner is more exaggerated and violent.
Joged Dance
The Joged dance is typically accompanied by a gamelan ensemble of bamboo instruments called a gamelan joged bumbung. The Joged Bumbung is one of the few secular dances of Bali where the flashy-dressed jogged dancer invites men from the crowd to dance with her in pretence of seduction.

The dance begins with a long opening sequence of the female dancer. With her long shawl in the hand, she goes among the spectators and invites a man by pointing at him with her fan, or touching him at the waist. The man invited to dance is called the pengibing. The better he is, the louder the cheers and roar of the crowd. He may try to pinch her, dance hip to hip with her, or behave like an upset lover and try to hit her.
Kebyar Dances
The Kebyar dance is a male solo dance. Among the most famous Kebyar dance are the Kebyar Duduk and Kebyar Trompong. These two dances were created by Mario, the Balinese dance genius of the century.

The most popular Kebyar is Kebyar Duduk where the dancer sits cross-legged throughout most of the dance. As the dance progresses, the dancer crosses the floor on the outer edges of his feet and approaches a member of the orchestra.

In order to become a great Kebyar dancer, he has to be able to play every instrument of the orchestra. In Kebyar Trompong, the dancer joins the orchestra by playing a long instrument called the trompong while dancing.
Kecak Dance
Kecak dance is perhaps the most stunning of all the Balinese dances. The story line of the dance is taken from the Hindu epic Ramayana that tells the story of Prince Rama and his rescue of Princess Sinta, who has been kidnapped by the evil King Rahwana. Prince Rama was able to rescue Princess Sinta with the help of the white monkey armies.

The word Kecak is derived from the "chak-chak" sounds, the chanting 'monkey' chorus. Unlike other dances, there is no gamelan orchestra accompanying it. Instead, a group of over 150 bare-chested men make an amazing synchronized chak-chak sound while swaying their bodies and waving their hands, acting as the various monkey armies that are featured in the story.
Legong Kraton
In legends, Legong is the heavenly dance of divine nymphs. Of all classical Balinese dances, it remains the quintessence of femininity and grace. The most popular Legong dance is Legong Kraton (Legong of the Palace). Formerly, the dance was patronized by local kings and held in a residence of the royal family. Dancers were recruited from the aptest and prettiest children. Today, the Legong dancers are still very young.

The dance is performed by three dancers: a female attendant of the palace and two identically dressed legongs who act the roles of royal persons. The story derives from the history of East Java in the 12th and 13th centuries. A king finds the maiden Rangkesari lost in the forest. He takes her home and locks her in a house of stone. Rangkesari's brother, the Prince of Daha, threatens war unless she is set free.

Rangkesari begs her captor to avoid war by giving her liberty, but the king prefers to fight. On his way to battle, he encounters a bird of ill omen that predicts his death. In the fight that ensues he is killed. The dance dramatizes the farewells of the King as he departs for the battlefield and his ominous encounter with the bird.

The dancers flow from one identity into the next without disrupting the harmony of the dance. They may act as the double image of one character and their movements marked by tight synchronization. Then they may split, each enacting a separate role, and come together again. In a love scene in which they rub noses, the King takes leave of Rangkesari. She repels his advances by beating him with her fan, and he departs in anger, soon to perish on the battlefield.
Mendet Dance
Mendet dance is a sacred processional dance which is performed in the inner sanctums of the temple by the married women of the village, though in some cases young women and girls join in as well.

The women carry offerings of arak (traditional liquor) and holy water to offer up to the Gods on their divine journey home. A procession is formed and the women weave around the temple grounds in stylized patterns to the gong music, stopping in front of each shrine to offer up their offerings.
Oleg Tambulilingan Dance
Oleg Tambulilingan Dance was created by I Mario of Tabanan in 1952. The dance was originally performed by one girl and called Oleg which means the swaying of a dancer. Later, a male part was added to make it a duet, and the dance had a new theme portraying two bumblebees (Tambulilingan) flirting in a flower garden.

The female dancer enters the stage first, circling the stage in tight quick steps, trailing a long silk scarf. The dancer portrays the full range of female emotions: seductiveness, scorn, teasing, moodiness, naughtiness, happy. The female dancer first pretends to snub the male, but he is finally able to win her love by various tactics.

In one sequence, the female dancer dances in the seated position while she sensuously sways and waves her hands. The male dancer circles her with a manly pace, his head cocked, feeling his power over her. They come close, only to swirl apart again. Oleg Tambulilingan dance ends with a love dance of the two bumblebees.
These dances are performed as a welcome to the visiting gods, which are presented with offerings of flowers. Nowadays, the showering of flowers is also addressed to the tourists. During the dance, the flowers are scattered over the guest or audience as an expression of welcome.

The Panyembrama has taken many of its movements from temple dances, such as the Rejang Dance, Pendet and Gabor, which are considered sacred and performed exclusively for God.
Prembon Dance
Prembon dance was created in the 1940s by the royal dancers of Gianyar Palace under command of the king of Gianyar, I Dewa Manggis VIII. The dance took movements from Arja, Baris, Gambuh, Parwa, and mainly Topeng Dance, an excellent performance to a whole range of different dances.

Prembon dance often begins with a solo Baris dance and other non-dramatic dance, followed by a story of Balinese kings with characters from Arja, Baris, Gambuh, Parwa, and Topeng Dance. Although Prembon has a resemblance to Topeng performance, but watching Prembon gives an excellent glimpse of all dance genres above.
Ramayana Dance
A new version of Ramayana dance was introduced to Bali in mid 1970s. Accompanied by the gamelan gong orchestra, Ramayana dance is a unique combination of traditional dance technique and modern comedy.

The scene begins in the deep forest of Dandaka where Prince Rama, his wife Sita, and his brother Laksmana live peacefully in exile. One day, while hunting for deer, Sita is kidnapped by the evil Rawana. With the help of Garuda and a white monkey general named Hanuman, Prince Rama eventually rescues his wife.

Because of their ideal good looks, the characters of Rama and Laksmana are played by beautiful women. Rama wears a golden headgear while Laksmana wears a black headdress. Their dancing style is very refined and dignified as noble characters.

On the other hand, the demon king, Rawana, is arrogant and bad-tempered. His dancing style is more in keeping with a demon character. Often, it is the animals of Ramayana dance who steal the show as they have more freedoms than human character. Therefore, Hanuman is usually played by the most creative actor. Each performance of Hanuman will never be the same.
Rejang Dance
Rejang dance is a sacred temple dance which is performed as an offering to the Gods who have momentarily visited a shrine. The dance is performed by women of all ages to propitiate ancestral spirits.

The dance’s steps and gestures are simple. The dancers move slowly and deliberately to the padmasana (shrine), holding their hip sashes and twirling their fans
Sanghyang Dedari Dance
Sanghyang Dedari is a ceremonial dance which is performed to repel the evil spirit and stop them from infecting the people in the form of sickness or death. Dedari means angel and the dance is a means of contact with the spirit world in which the dancers become the mediums.

Sanghyang Dedari is performed by two girl dancers who are put into trance before dancing. They dance in perfect harmony to the background of male kecak choir, although their eyes never open during the entire performance. When the chant ends, the girl dancers fall down into the ground. Then, they are brought out from trance by a priest (Pemangku), who prays beside them and blesses them with holly water.
Sanghyang Jaran Dance
Sanghyang Jaran dance is performed by a man dancer who tramples on flaming coals riding a hobby horse made out of palm leaves. The red hot coals are scattered, and the dancer trances like a horse, snorting and neighing, seemingly unscathed by his torment.

The dance is believed to have the power to invite the gods or sacred spirits to enter the body of the dancers and put them in a state of trance. It dates back to the ancient Pre-Hindu culture, a time when Balinese people strongly believed that a dance could cure sickness and disease. Sanghyang Jaran dance is usually performed in the fifth or sixth month of Balinese calendar as it is believed that during these months, Balinese people are vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses.
Semarayana Dance
Semarayana dance was created in 1994 with the main character, Dewi Chandra Kirana, a princess from Daha Kingdom who disguised herself as a male youth so she could venture out and seek her beloved who had disappeared without a trace.

By wearing a headdress (destar), the symbol of manhood, and with shoulder length hair, the princess was unrecognizable as a female. She finally meets her beloved but due to her disguise and the fact that he is partly obscured when they meet, a fight develops.

In the fight, the princess's destar is knocked from her head and her beloved, Raden Inu Kertapati, recognizes her and rushes to her side to embrace her.
Topeng (Mask) Dance
The Topeng dance is about the stories of Balinese and Javanese ancestors. The dancers have to imitate each character represented by the mask. As a ritual interval in religious ceremonies and processions, the Topeng dance ultimately takes on a sacred connotation. As a matter of fact, foreigners are allowed to see the dance only if they behave appropriately and respectfully.

Peculiar components of the Topeng dance are the masks used to hide the faces of the dancers. Specific attributes are used to identify the characters, such as: a mustache and thick eyebrows for the elder, arrogance and defiance for Patih, etc. The rhythm of movements, in accordance to the age and role of the character, is underscored by a large gamelan orchestra.
Trunajaya Dance
Trunajaya dance was created by Wayan Wandres, who was originally from Singaraja, Buleleng, North Bali. The word Trunajaya is derived from Truna which means single and Jaya which means to win. The dance which portrays the emotions of a young man through love and passion, is generally performed by a young woman who wears a headdress (destar) and a loincloth (kancut).

Trunajaya dance is usually performed by a single female but sometimes two, dancing together in synchronous movements and to the mesmerized sounds of Gong Kebyar, a fast rhythmic beat which goes in harmony to the dance.
Wayang (Shadow Puppet Show)
The wayang (shadow puppet) show is perhaps the most famous Balinese theater. The wayang show is the door to Bali’s unique world of myths, symbols and religious beliefs. The dalang (puppet master) tells the story by projecting on a white screen, the shadows of the puppets he manipulates in front of a big oil lamp. He plays several characters at once, singing and hitting his puppet box to mark the rhythm.

The dalang takes his narrative from the great epics of the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and other stories. He then creates his own episodes, usually about a hero’s quest for a magical weapon, a godly secret, or a mate. The hero, accompanied by buffoons, eventually succeeds after long adventures in the wilderness and fighting against evil giants. There are two sets of puppets, those of the right for the heroes, and those of the left for the villains, symbolize the internal fight of good and evil.
Yudapati Dance
Yudapati dance was created in 1987, based on Baris dance. The word Yudapati is derived from Yuda which means war and Pati which means death. Yudapati is a dance which portrays a warrior about to embark on a battle. Although the dancers are sometimes men, it is generally women who perform the dance, dressed in male costumes and headdresses.

The reason why the dance is performed by female dancers is that the choreographer wishes to expose all the delicate gestures and movements in the dance by using the flexibility of a woman's body.

Yudapati dance was originally performed for religious purposes but nowadays is performed regularly as a tourist attraction.
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