Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Kecak Dance

No visit to Bali would be complete without a dance performance, what more a visit to Ubud, Bali's cultural capital. And at very reasonable prices (50000 Rp/SGD $10 per entry) too! (Ok, the dance I write about later cost 75000 Rp/SGD $15 per entry but for that price, you got kueh kueh and a drink...) Granted, we're not talking about professional dancers. These are community dance troupes, much like Sriwana in Singapore, but, man, can these people dance. Factor in the atmospheric setting (invariably outdoors in some courtyard and more often than not against the backdrop of some traditional Balinese building) and the balmy weather, and one gets quite a magical evening.

Ubud's nightly repertoire is a smorgasboard for all. The Kecak performance we chose to watch was the one at the ARMA (Agung Rai Museum of Art) open air stage. We had missed this previously, it being held just twice a month, on the full moon and the new moon. This time, the stars were aligned...

Performed by an all-male troupe, the Kecak is a dance drama based on one of the Hanuman stories in the Ramayana. There is no music except for the percussive noises provided by the men chanting "cak, cak, cak".

As we witnessed that night, the Kecak is quite spectacular, not least for the fire play. Think grown men throwing balls of fire around, at each other and up into the trees. Then there is the sound of 50 or more men chanting in unison - oddly moving if not outright powerful.

Ironically, for all its ritualistic overtones, the Kecak is not one of Bali's traditional dances, religious or otherwise. Although it does have its roots in a long-standing trance dance, the Kecak is really the brainchild of expatriate artist Walter Spies who thought it would make a good show for tourists! If only Singapore could "create" such attractions that still look and feel organic, without them being so contrived and kitschy...


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