‘Barong’ dance for Bali’s heritage

23 May, 2014 | Source: the jakarta post

On a sweltering afternoon, two dozen young men gather in a garden in Sanur — they have come together to practice their barong routine ahead of this weekend’s barong competition in Puaya village, Batuan.

 

On a sweltering afternoon, two dozen young men gather in a garden in Sanur — they have come together to practice their barong routine ahead of this weekend’s barong competition in Puaya village, Batuan.

Weighing in at 70 kilograms of fur, leather and gilt with a great carved wooden head, the barong costume calls for extreme stamina to bring it to its animate life.

“Yes, it’s very hot in the barong. The trick is to be calm, then you can handle it,” says long-time barong dancer and three-time champion, Ketut Suardana of the 15-minute long dance.

Like the other 23 young men rehearsing at Ketut’s home, he is passionate about Balinese culture.

“My group joined the competition because it important for kids to see and learn about the barong dance and our culture. Art is losing its importance for the young these days, so we hope the competition fosters an interest in traditional arts,” says Ketut.

He cites the trappings of the modern world, cell phones, computers and motorbikes as some of the reasons the youth have lost interest in Balinese arts.

“In modern life only a few people are interested, those who are passionate about protecting and maintaining our arts. We need to reignite the spirit of love for the barong again,” says Ketut.

In the background is the roar of teenagers doing wheelies and racing motorbikes along the road, the whine of engines cutting through the drums, flutes and gamelan of the rehearsals.

“I am very afraid that barong could be lost because kids no longer care for the arts, they have no desire to celebrate our culture,” Ketut said.

Another youth working for traditional-arts preservation is barong dancer, Wayan Tjahya Darmadi. Dripping with sweat and panting hard, Wayan has just completed his 15-minute dance rehearsal. He is exhausted, but glowing with joy as he discusses barong while standing in Ketut’s garden, which overlooks a bamboo fenced coconut and papaya farm.

“Yes, this is real Bali, to rehearse like this near farmlands under shady trees. All of us coming together to practice barong. The barong is a symbol of good and in my heart, when I step within the barong to dance he feels alive, I feel his taksu [charisma] and his will to have good defeat evil,” says Wayan, who along with his friends will compete in the barong competition this weekend.

Barong dance competitions are held in Bali most years, says head of Puaya village barong competition organizing committee, 20-year-old law student Kadek Pasek.

“This competition was a Puaya Youth Group initiative and is a first for our village. As a group we wanted to do something to support and develop art and creativity and to protect our culture and heritage,” says Kadek of the competition, which won funding from the Gianyar local administration.

The competition has attracted 30 entries from across Gianyar and Denpasar with judges made up of highly experienced traditional performers.

“The jury is a secret until the competition but I can say it is made up of five people, three to judge the barong dance and two to judge the drumming and music. They are all maestros in their fields,” says Kadek.

Scoring by the judges hinges on three components: how fluently music and dance are united; whether the dance and music portray the soul of the dance; and costume, explains Kadek, which at this level is made up of highly subtle movements.

Balinese barong dancing is vastly different from the frenetic leaps and tumbles of Chinese barong dances. Here, under the tropical sun, movements are slow and deliberate, the barong, “like a cat, looking here and there, up and down”, says Wayan.

Only the calves and feet of the dancers performing classic Balinese dance moves are seen under the weighty barong, which snaps its teeth in time with the drums, raises its hackles and shakes its mighty body warding off evil.

As it dances during Monday’s rehearsals in the gardens of Ketut’s home, the barong seems to bring to life all that is best in Bali, young men working together to protect their heritage against a backdrop of the rich tropical green that is so rapidly disappearing.

This weekend’s competition in Puaya, a village recognized for its ongoing commitment to the arts, is also proof that the Bali of legend, the island of the gods, is alive and waiting to be shared.

 

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