Craft&Culture


    The Evolution Of Kecak

      2-6-2016
     

    The Evolution Of Kecak

    The Evolution Of Kecak

    The Evolution Of Kecak

    Hanoman, the lagendary white monkey in the Ramayana story.

    The Evolution Of Kecak

    The Pemangku, a Hindu priest, is spreading holy water on the dancers.
    The Evolution Of Kecak

    The Evolution Of Kecak

    The Evolution Of Kecak
    Hanoman, the lagendary white monkey in the Ramayana story.

    The Evolution Of Kecak
    The Pemangku, a Hindu priest, is spreading holy water on the dancers.

    Our contributor Irene Barlian watched a magical performance of the Kecak Dance at the Uluwatu Temple...

    There is no other place in Indonesia that embodies Hindu spirituality more than Bali, an island that is famous for its unique culture. Bali offers an endless experience of offerings, purifications, processions and dozens of religious ceremonies that the Balinese dedicate their lives to, which give a mystical and magical vibe to the island. Hindu temples rise every other kilometer, and the local culture derived from their Hindu traditions are imprinted as the identity of the island.

    Bali teaches us about faith, tolerance and diversity, as this island merges the eastern and western culture into one synchronous harmony. Evidence of this is the famous Kecak Dance, a must-see performance that displays a cultural exoticism that holds important historical value, and has been transformed from an ancient ritual into a popular performance.

    East Meets West
    Walter Spies, a German artist and scholar, is known as the creator of this popular dance first staged in 1930. Spies was already familiar with Balinese culture as he had studied Balinese music and dance, but his inspiration for Kecak came after watching the Sanghyang Dedari Trance, a purification procession to clean the village from a plague or a bad omen. This ritual was commonly performed by the old Balinese society where the dancers are believed to go into a trance. During this state of unconsciousness, they believe that they can communicate with God or their ancestral spirits.

    Spies’ involvement in the film titled “Insel der Damonen” became the root of the Kecak Dance as he re-choreographed the ancient Balinese ritual. Broadly speaking, there are some minor differences between Kecak and Sanghyang Dedari. For example the sitting formation is changed and the damar, a torch with a decorative Balinese pattern, is placed in the middle of the dancers. Spies’ version of the Kecak emphasizes more the structured and dramatic choreography.

    Another person who also played a part in the transition of the Kecak Dance was Wayan Limbak, a Balinese dancer. Together with Spies, Wayan brought the Kecak into an art form whose function was purely for entertainment and no longer attached with ritual beliefs. In 1960 a lot of dance groups were born and became popular in Bali. Ever since then, the Kecak has been transformed into a cultural symbol and plays an important role in Bali’s tourism industry.

    The melding process of the eastern and western cultures in that Kecak Dance was slow but sure. The marriage of culture and art in the performance sets a new barometer for traditional dance. Aesthetics now become a dominant factor in a Kecak performance, as well as the music and choreography that are also crucial factors. The story is derived from the Ramayana, a famous Indonesian folktale about the adventure of Rama who was trying to save his lover Shinta from Rahwana, which has been interpreted in so many ways. Costumes now become one of the most important elements in a Kecak show as well. That’s why it’s obvious that the Kecak has gradually turned into a dramatic art form, leaving all its old ritual elements behind.

    Magical Sunset
    There are a lot of Kecak performances to see in Bali, but I personally think the Kecak Dance at the Uluwatu Temple is the most magical, as it is performed in Bali’s oldest temple during the sunset.

    “Cak, cak, cak,” the voices of the dancers begin to echo in the open circular podium at Uluwatu Temple, as more than fifty dancers enter the stage. The dancers are all men wearing only black and white checkered sarongs with a red ribbon. They are sitting side by side, circling around the damar. There are no musical instruments prior to this show, only the interlocking vowels of the dancers that create an exquisite symphony.

    The twilight sky has just appeared when Shinta is abducted. The female dancer gives a remarkable performance in this scene by expressing anxiety, fear and sadness in her face and movements, and the wind that sweeps Shinta’s face complements the scene in a subtle way.

    That moment is captivating and audience can see that the Kecak Dance is more than just a traditional dance. It’s a theatrical performance where the dancers move and act in a very dramatic manner. Every facial expression, timing, space, motion and costume is all thoughtfully designed in line with one another. The dance is also rich with symbols, like the fireballs during a fight scene between Hanoman and Rahwana that symbolizes anger and the desire to win the battle.

    The chanting of “cak, cak, cak” is still loudly heard when the dance performance comes to an end with the victory of Rama. Celebrating his win, Rama holds a bow and arrow while the rest of the dancers carry Rahwana on top of their heads as they leave the podium. The ending of the performance is even more mystical as the sun sets on the horizon.

    Now the question is, how far will the transformation of the Kecak Dance go? Over the past 90 years, the Kecak is no longer considered a spiritual procession but more of a blend of tradition, history and culture that become one colossal performance. It has become an integral part of Bali’s identity and more importantly, a symbolic representation of the nation.

     
    Irene Barlian

       Contributor : Irene Barlian


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