Bali Arts Festival
The highlight of our stay will be attending events during the first half of the Bali Arts Festival. Exact dates have not yet been set, but it generally runs from mid-June to mid-July every year, and features some of the island’s most talented and innovative artists and performers. Please see the Bali Arts Festival homepage for more information on the event and to see the 2012 program.
One of the more well-known Balinese music traditions among tourists, the kecak, or Ramayana Monkey Chant, is a popular tourist attraction across the island. While its origins can be traced to ancient religious beliefs, today it is performed in Bali almost exclusively for tourists, and is an example of the cultural tourism in Bali that we will examine as a part of the Dialogue.
Kecak is a dramatic vocal rendering of gamelan music, set to a story from the Ramayana Hindu epic. Often performed at night and around a fire, the kecak depicts the monkey-like characater, Varana, who helps Prince Rama save Princess Sita after having been kidnapped by the evil King Ravana. A huge chorus of male vocalists, typically dressed to the waist in black and white checked cloth, depict the monkey army, chanting “chak! chak! chak!” in percussive, interlocking rhythms that mimic the structure of gamelan music. We will attend at least one such performance and learn more about its significance as a tourist attraction that no longer holds its original religious significance.
The wayang kulit, or shadow puppet play, is a cultural mainstay in Bali, Java, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Performed at night and accompanied by a small ensemble of gender wayang, xylophone-like instruments played for shadow puppet performances, the wayang is an all-night, community affair. Drawing stories from the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, a typical wayang includes a wide range of characters, including gods and goddesses, royalty, nobility, commoners, demons, and the popular clown figures, who provide comic relief and comment on topical issues and local gossip.
The puppets are made of buffalo hide and are beautifully decorated, both by painting and fine, detailed holes punched through the hide to allow the light to shine through and illuminate the puppet’s features. They are all controlled by a single dhalang, or puppetmaster, who sings, recites dialogue, artfully maanipulates the puppets, and signals the musicians when to play. It takes many years to master the required skills to be a progessional dhalang, and they are true artists who literally perform every role in the drama (providing a unique voice for each and translating archaic speech into local dialects) while manipulating the puppets. We will observe a wayang in a traditional, village setting during the Dialogue.