Horrendous traffic and kecak dance

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May 25th 2013
Published: October 1st 2017
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Paul woke with a cold (actually he went to bed with a cold but when he woke, it was no better), so we opted to do nothing all day again. In fact, it is about 1pm right now, and I think I'm the only one who is awake. In any case, I am the only one in the living room. We had a late lunch, then were met by Anwar's friend who drove us to the cliff-side temple of Pura Luhur Uluwatu for the Kecak fire dance. The traffic for most of the drive was terrible and the part from Jimbaran beach south was almost impossible. Several times, we noticed that other cars turned around, and we were close to doing the same thing … except that the traffic going the other direction was just as bad. It took us 3 hours to travel the 25 miles from Ubud to Uluwatu. Unbelievable. At one point, our driver took a side road, and this saved us a ton of time. But we did not have a chance to visit the temple before the fire dance began, which was too bad, as it seems to have a spectacular setting. It sits high on a cliff, surrounded by a small garden. The ampitheatre is very large … seating several hundred people, and they seem to continue sell tickets even after all the seats are sold. We were actually lucky, because we were given standing places high along the rim of the amphitheater, so we could see fairly well. Other late-comers were sat near the chanting circle, which would have provided a great chance to see the chorus and dancers up close, but would have made it hard to take in the scene. It also would have made it very likely Kyla would have been up dancing with the servants when it came time to recruit from the audience.

The fire dance was interesting … but the most interesting element was the use of chanting instead of instruments. The chorus consists of about 100 men who sit in concentric circles and spend the entire time chanting. It's a very staccato chant, "chuk chuk chuk chuk chuk" and it varies in rhythm and tone. Different men seem to take different parts, and there is clearly a lead that varies a bit throughout the evening. The chorus also participates in the dance, acting as trees, a throne for Rama, warriors, and respondents. The series of dances explore various scenes in the Ramayana. The most fun character is the white monkey king, who was fairly comedic in this rendition, playing with various members of the audience. The dance culminates with the captured monkey king sitting in the center of the circle, while the servants of the demon spread dried grass in a circle around him. The grass is lit on fire and burns towards the monkey, who then breaks his bonds and dances with bare feet across the grass, extinguishing the flames. He is not injured in the performance, and, again, as we noticed in one of the previous dances we attended, the priest enters the ring prior to the fire-lighting to bless the dancer so that he won't get hurt. (The priest exited the theater right ahead of us, which was someone fun. Makes those pesky priests seem real enough.)

--As a side note about the kecak dance: it is based, as we had learned from Anwar, on a trance dance usually performed by young girls. The men would sit in a circle and chant while the girls entered a trance, then communed with the spirits. This is a sacred ritual, only to be performed during times of need (particularly in times of plague) and at the temple. Tourists were not allowed to see the dance, nor could it be performed for their benefit. So, in the 1930s, a German artist, working in collaboration with an Indonesian dancer, developed this variation. The scenes from the Ramayana make it "palatable" for Western audiences and also remove the ritual element. The same dance, with slight changes, is performed around Bali.

We found our driver fairly quickly, then began the drive back to Jimbaran, to our hotel. The traffic was much better heading this direction….almost all tourist vans leaving the fire dance. We checked in without much difficulty, and Pas was escorted to his hotel by one of our front desk men. Our villa is lovely, modern and cool, and we have a pool right in our living room. The wall behind the pool is filled with positive, healing word like “recovery” and relaxing words like, well, “relax”, and my favorite, “lethargy.” I want Keegan to learn the Balinese equivalent (also provided) so that he can explain the translation to me. (And I can see he's on it, as he's been reading about the Balinese script for the last hour.) Pas came over for about a half hour, then we all went to bed.

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