Amidst stunning scenery, Ubud, the "cultural heart of Bali" is a must see for travellers to Bali. There is a thriving arts & crafts industry in Ubud & surrounding villages. The area has outstanding restaurants and fantastic shopping.
Balinese Dance is one of Ubud’s most popular attractions, and with its religious importance, elaborate costumes, and mythological symbolism, it is easy to see why.
Balinese dance performances are a spectacle of colors, music, choreography, beautiful costumes, accompanied by sounds of gamelan music.
For the Balinese, dance is as important to their religious tradition as visiting a temple. Many times a dance will be incorporated into the ceremony, and tourists are welcome to watch (just be sure to wear the appropriate attire). Each dance tells a different story in Balinese Hinduism, and has been preserved for centuries.
There are two main options to view a dance; either at a performance put on for tourist, or at a temple ceremony. Either way you go, it is a true Balinese experience, and should be on your checklist of things to do.
Tourist performance will be the most accessible as you can arrange tickets through your hotel/home stay or from a number of ticket sellers on the street (typical price around 80,000 RP). The show will last around 1 – 2 hours, and all proceeds go directly back into the community.
Ceremonial shows are put on directly for the Balinese, and there is no price for admittance. The dance will be the complete version, in most cases lasting between 4 – 5 hours. Be sure to dress up in the proper ceremonial attire to gain entrance.
One of the most beloved dances in Bali, this dance features three main dancers and a gamelan troupe. Revered for its grace, the Legong is primarily preformed by girls between the ages of 8 - 12. Like most Balinese dances, the dancers create the mood, setting, and tell the story without the help of lighting or props. Thus the Legong dance takes on a grace and careful elegance compared to some other performances.
The story derives from the history of East Java in the 12th century. While on a journey the King Laksmi finds the young princess Rangkesari lost in the forest. He holds her captive until the princess’ brother, Daha, hears of his sister’s imprisonment and threatens war with the King unless she is freed. Rangkesari begs her captor to be released, but he refuses to let her go, and leaves for battle. On his way he is met by a bird of ill omen that predicts his death, but ignores the bird and later dies in battle.
In the performance, you are first introduced to the Condong (court attendant) who performs a solo to the gamelan music. Two Legongs arrive at the end of the solo, wearing all gold and perform a piece with the condong. After the condong retires the two Legongs pantomime the story of King Laksmi capturing the princess. The dance ends as the condong reappears as a bird sent to warn the king of this death, and his defiantly leaves in pursuit of war.
The Barong dance is named after the Barong character in Balinese mythology. He is the king of the spirits and a protector of good. Often symbolized by a lion, the Barong is a sacred symbol to the Balinese. Before a performance, a priest must make offerings before the masks are brought out. In short, the Barong dance symbolizes how good overcomes evil, and balance is restored.
No other dance symbolizes the Balinese view of history better than the Barong. It combines both mythology and history to tell the epic tale of Erlangga, the King of Bali in the 10th Century, fighting his mother Rangda who has been accused of practicing black magic. Once Rangda becomes a widow she summons all the evil spirits to attack Erlangga and his troops. Erlangga is overpowered and calls for the assistance of Barong.
A second battle ensues, and Rangda casts a spell that causes all of Erlangga’s troops to try and kill themselves by stabbing their keris’ (short sword) into their stomachs. Barong countered her spell by making the soldiers’ bodies too strong for the keris to pierce the skin. Erlangga wins the battle with the help of the Barong and Rangda flees.
When Rangda casts a spell to send Erlangga’s troupes into a suicidal trance, the performance is aggressive, and real. The dancers often claim they enter trances with suicidal notions, and there have been instances of serious injury. It is not uncommon to see priests helping certain dancers come out of their trance with prayer and coconut water. With priests conducting offerings, music provided by Balinese gamelan, history blending with mythology, and dancers entering into trances, the Barong has it all.
The Kecak is arguably the most popular dance in Bali, and is a newer dance compared to the others. It forgoes tradition and does not include a gamelan troupe. The music is composed of 50 or so men chanting in a harmonious vibrato, “Chak achak achak.” The men form the audio but also the scene, throwing their hands up to represent fire, wind, and even a prison cell.
With the help of a few key dancers, the dance tells the story from the Ramayana where monkey-like Vanara helped Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. Rama was off to rescue his wife, princess Sita, who is being held captive by Ravana. Rama triumphs with the rescue and Ravana is vanquished.
The dance lasts about 1 hour, and is told through 5 acts. It is the most unique dance performance in Bali, and perhaps the most spectacular. The simplicity of the setting, and relying on the voice to carry the music allows the spectator to focus on the dance. Traditionally there is often the use of fire and fireballs, which thrills the audience and makes it not to be missed.