23 July 2012

Balinese dance goes back as far as its written history. Ninth century inscriptions name the wayang (puppet theatre) and topeng (mask dance) as the main entertainment of the day. Gamelan music goes back still further to the Dong Son bronze culture of the first millennium BC. Apart from the trance dances, much of the Balinese dance heritage actually originates from Java.

After the Majapahit warriors subdued Bali in the l4t century, Javanese mini-principalities and courts soon appeared everywhere, creating that unique blend of court and peasant culture, which is Bali highly sophisticated, dynamic and lively. The accompanying narrative for dance and drama is to a large extent based on court stories from pre-Majapahit Java. Even the Indian epics, another favorite of the stage, especially the wayang, use Javanese, complete with long quotes from the ancient Javanese Kakawin poetry. So Javanese culture, which disappeared from Java following lslamization in the 16th century, still survived in Bali in a Balinese form, which became classical Balinese culture.

bali dance

However, colonization brought about the fall of classical Bali. With the rural courts defeated and with new lords of the land, the center of creativity shifted to village associations, and to the development of tourism. The 30s and 50s were particularly fertile decades; while the old narrative-led theater survived, lively solo dances appeared everywhere, accompanied by a new, dynamic kind of music called gong kebyar. This trend continued in the 60s and 70s with the creation of colossal sendratari ballets, representing ancient Indian and Javanese stories adapted to the needs of modern audiences.

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