Ngayah: A Temple’s Ritual Activitation

Culture | Written By, Bruce Granquist |

There are other preparations besides preparing the temple grounds, other important elements of ritual life that can take years to develop and perfect. This is the music and dance that will accompany the temple activities. Most of the musicians and dancers are from the village itself, sometimes outside artists are invited to help out but this is unusual. In daily life these artists work as farmers, hotel employees, housewives and students. During the temple ceremony they transform themselves into the heroes of legend; Arjuna, Sita, Rama, and Panji. After the performance these players return to their normal routines and blend back into the rhythms of daily life.

A sketch of a Wayong Wong dancer,  Tejakula, Buleleng

A sketch of a Wayong Wong dancer,
Tejakula, Buleleng

Becoming a dancer requires years of study, usually beginning at childhood. Many children enjoy studying dance, neighbourhood dance classes are very popular and well attended. At these chaotic mass lessons, the teachers can see who will excel. In the midst of the rambunctious children, one girl stands out, maintaining her concentration through the long series of movements. Sweating profusely she moves without embellishment, her focus unwavering.

Dance Rehearsal, Denpasar

Dance Rehearsal, Denpasar

Some of these students will go on to be accomplished dancers, others will learn just to fill in the roles to complete the temple ceremony. But each participant is a necessary part of the ceremony, all the roles need to be filled.

At first exposure to Balinese dance, one is overwhelmed with sensations; the glittering costumes, the explosive music, the highly refined yet expressive movements. There are quiet moments too, but even when a dancer has paused into a still position, he or she seems to be on the verge of bursting into the next passage.

Twin Dancer

Twin Dancer

A typical dance is composed of a long series of movements, each having its own name and classification, each with its own beginning and end. All these discrete movements are strung together like beads on a string, altogether forming the complete dance. If you watch a good dancer, you will see that there is nothing missing, nothing is indistinct in the fluidity of the movements. Each one is an episode in itself, each one connected to the next.

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Bruce Granquist



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