As somebody whose idea of a good time includes cruising the aisles at Michael's, fraying linen fabric edges just so, and crying at the heartwarming approach of a marching band in a parade, I probably couldn't have picked a better Indonesian spot to surround myself with. The appreciation for and dedication to the arts in Bali is unmistakable.
Particularly around the spiritual center of Ubud. There's the one village that's the wood carving center of Bali. Another village that's the center for stone carving. The village that's the Bali center for painting. The batik fabric village. The silver jewelry-making village. You get the picture. Each is proud of its craft's technique, quality, and custom. Take the craft of batik. Relentlessly patient artists create this traditional Balinese fabric by drawing an intricate design on fabric, tracing every line of the design on both sides with wax, dyeing the fabric, then removing the wax. Now, repeat the last two steps with different colored dyes oh, about 4 more times. But as much respect as I have for all of these classic art forms, there is no doubt I am most taken with Bali's performing arts.
To say I am smitten with the sounds and sights of traditional Balinese music and dance is an understatement. The Balinese gamelan orchestra, composed primarily of various bronze percussion instruments, creates sounds I have never heard before. The dissonance of the tones. The quick, syncopated melodies. The uncertainty of any time signature! There is no way to tell where they will take the intriguing sound so you simply hold on to every note for dear life.
Then there's the dance. Legong, Barong, Kecuk... Traditional dances that, as in many cultures, tell legendary stories and are each very unique. However, if I was casting my vote on So You Think You Can Dance Bali, it would always go for the Legong dancers. I've seen a few Legong shows in my day here and, without exception, they are never anything short of mesmerizing. Every precise finger motion. Every slight ankle flex. Every deliberate pursing of the lips. Every isolated torso shift. Every sideways, oh-no-you-di'int move of the neck. I cannot blink in fear of missing some tiny surprise. But it is the Legong dancers' eyes that have me completely entranced. Through their striking, Real-Housewives-interview-style makeup, the dancers' eyes steal the show. The slightest shift of glance. The strong, intimidating whites-of-their-eyes stare. The barely noticeable lift of a brow. The detail in the dance is astonishing. All somehow right on cue with the unpredictable soundtrack of the gamelan.
Click below for a sights and sounds snippet of Legong and the accompanying gamelan (taken from a YouTube source as my footage did not turn out well). And for all those impressive, exotic details? Keep an eye out.
Balinese artistry. A batik creation.
A traditional gamelan stage
Loved getting to strike a few bars myself!
Traditional Legong performance in Batubalan, Bali