Traditional Indonesian dance shows
Every time I travel, I like to watch a show – theatre, dances, music, magic – why, even a cabaret ! And in Indonesia, I spent a lot of my time watching several performances and Indonesian dance shows. For a country with over 17500 islands, there are so many different cultures and traditions And most of these shows are art forms, steeped in local lores. So next time you visit the island country, head to the beaches, the volcanoes, the forests, the temples but do not miss the traditional dance in Indonesia. Here are five cultural shows in Indonesia that you must not miss.
The Kecak or the Fire dance is my favourite traditional Indonesian dance show. It best watched in Bali in one of the temples, especially in Ulu Watu in an open auditorium. The story is borrowed from the Ramayana but the dance drama is more than just a show, its a ritual. I saw it in Batubulan as well where the fire dance is also followed by a trance, which has its show in exorcism. The loud chanting of Chak forms the chorus. It is a popular traditional dance of Indonesia.
As the scenes got more dramatic, the tempo of the chant called the Ramayan Monkey would rise and fall as the performers swayed theirs arms, creating an effect of the war between Rama’s monkey army and Ravana’s demons.It ended with the scene of Hanuman setting the arena on fire and the entire stage was glowing.
The fire dance also sometimes shows a dancer on horseback jumping into a flame in a state of trance as the performance ends on a rather fiery note. It was absolutely enchanting.
Tari Topeng Ireng
I saw this Indonesian dance performed by a group of kids dressed in rich colourful costumes. Borrowed heavily from martial arts, the Black Mask Dance or the Tari Topeng Ireng or Dayakan Dance has its origins in Magelang. No wonder the kids greeted us in the lobby of Hotel Atria performing this breath taking dance. Topeng in Indonesia means mask.
Some of these masked dances have narratives that tell stories of legends of kings and heroes or they pay tribute to nature or ancestors as well. These dances are also accompanied by musicians playing the gamelan. Every region of Indonesia has its own form of masked dance, a traditional dance of Indonesia and they have a story associated with it.
The Ramayana Ballet is one of my favourites set against the glimmering backdrop of the Prambanam temples in Jogja. It is the ambiance of the open air theatre across the River Opak that adds to the show. The Indonesian version of Ramayana takes about a couple of hours as we relive the story from Rama along with Sita and Lakshman leaving their kingdom and heading to the forest.
With lilting music and dramatic performances , the story unfolded as Ravana kidnapped Sita and killed Jatayu while Rama with the help of Sugriva after defeating his brother Vali sent Hanuman as the emissary to find Sita. More than the final battle between Rama and Ravana, the scene where Hanuman sets the city on fire was a spectacle to behold. I have seen a more fantastic performance of Ramayana.
Saung Angklung Show
On your next visit to Bandung, this is one cute little show that you must not miss. There is music in the air as little kids and adults sing, dance and play their musical instrument , Angklung made of bamboo tubes fitted into a frame made of bamboo too. The energy is infectious.
Sitting in the audience , we became kids at heart as we learnt to play it ourselves. There was a medley of local music and popular English songs and in the end , a little girl took me by hand and led me to the dance floor as we danced, sang and tapped our feet and clapped our hands to the performances.
Traditionally a sport of the Manggarai people, I saw this energetic performance at the Milo Village in Flores. A vibrant Indonesian dance, it is a ritual whip fight and it is usually played between opponents, sometimes from the neighbouring village. Whips, shields, masks , sticks and colourful costumes- the performance is bursting with energy and is a traditional dance of Indonesia.
It is almost like a war cry when the aggressor with the whip jumps up in the sky to strike while the defender tries to shield the attack. The dance is usually performed to welcome guests or at any event like a wedding or during the harvest festival. Its called a battle dance and is ridden with symbolism.
There are several shows and dance forms in Indonesia but I have been lucky to watch only these . What are other shows and performances would you recommend ?
I was in Indonesia with a group of travel bloggers and influencers from all over the world on invitation from Tourism Board of Indonesia .
Five things to do in Indonesia – Travel With Lakshmi
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