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Photo by Ryuji Suzuki
Bharatha Natyam

Bharatha Natyam is a South Indian classical dance form that developed chiefly in Tamil Nadu over the past three thousand years. The name Bharatha Natyam was coined in the 1930's to represent the three major elements of dance in the three syllables of the word Bharatha - bhava (facial expression), raga (melody), and tala (rhythm).

Originally, this art was known as sadi or dasiattam, and was performed in Hindu temples by female dancers called devadasis, or servants of God. Performances were a part of daily rituals and religious or festive occasions, where dance was considered to be an offering to the deities. Eventually, this dance form made its way into the royal courts, and in the 18th and 19th century Thanjavur courts, Bharatha Natyam developed into its present form. A period of decline in popularity was followed by a revival of Bharatha Natyam in the 1920's and 30's, after which it found its place on the modern stage.

Bharatha Natyam is known for its rhythmic, vigorous footwork, crisp movements, sculpturesque poses and combining the energy of its Nritta (rhythmic movements) with the emotion of its Nritya (expressive movements).

Photo by Ryuji Suzuki

Thai Classical Dance:Khon Dance Drama

‘Khon’; is a traditional performance of which dancing and acting are combined. It was originally produced as a form of entertainment in the royal courts. Although most aspects of the Khon dance form are similar to those of ‘Lakhon ‘(acting), Khon distinguishes itself from other forms of performances by the elaborate masks worn by leading performers, except for human and divine characters, who instead wear headdresses to indicate their ranks. The masks indicate the characters’ personalities and titles - be they simians, demons, garudhas or other great mystical beasts. Highly influenced by the art of traditional Thai sword and baton fighting, known in Thai as “krabi krabong”, stylized acrobatic elements are commonly found. Yet, Khon dance still maintains a soft rhythm and willowy grace that is characteristic in all styles of traditional Thai dance.

Khon draws most of its story and characters from the Ramayana Epic, which can be dated back to as early as the reign of King Ramkamhaeng of the Sukhothai period (1279-1317). By the Ayutthaya period (1350-1767), Ramayana was already a well-established literary tradition in Thailand. It was also renamed as ‘Ramakien’; – which means ‘the glory of Rama’ in Thai.

Photo by Ryuji Suzuki

Balinese Classical Dance

Along with the Hindu religion, the Indian influence in Balinese dances is also significant. Balinese strong identity adapts these various influences with indigenous religion of animism and folklore traditions, creating an expression distinctively flavored by Balinese ethnicity.

When we are talking about offering, what comes to our mind is flowers, fruits, cakes, etc. For the Balinese a dance is another kind of offering too. The main purpose of dancing is as an offering for the God and deities, not as a performance for public.

Based on their religious functions, Balinese dances can be categorized into three:

    • Wali (sacred) Dances - These dances are considered sacred, and must be performed in the inner court of the temple.
    • Bebali Dances - These dances are ceremonial, and usually performed in the middle court of a temple. In the spectrum of sacred and secular, these dances fall in the middle.
    • Balih-balihan - These dances are often considered secular and entertaining. They are performed in the outer court or even outside the temple.
    Ramayana performances are considered as Balih-balihan.

In Bali, Ramayana performances are more popular in the form of Kecak dance, often called monkey dance - with it's well known "chack-chack-chack!" oral music - which was created during colonial period in the thirties by the Balinese. Kecak is a spectacular dance usually performed at night, surrounding a bonfire. The westerners called this dance The Monkey Dance, for the movements may remind us of monkey's movements. There can literally be one hundred or more bare chested men, sitting down on the ground surrounding the bonfire, led by a priest in the middle. The only music to accompany them are the beats of their palms hitting their chests, their thighs, or other parts of their bodies, or their claps, rhythmically accompanied by shouting and chanting. The dancers move in unison, creating a spectacular choreographic performance. Either hands stretched out, pulled in, rested on the shoulder of the next person, or waists gyrated left and right, etc.

Ramayana Ballet has the exact story line as the Kecak except that they are accompanied by the gamelan. Animals in Balinese plays are allowed more freedoms than human characters. This is true in both the dance and the performance as seen in the monkey and daemon characters. Because Rama and Laksmana are seen as idealized personifications of beauty, they are played by women.

Javanese Shadow Puppetry

Wayang Kulit (Shadow Puppet) in Central Java is probably one of the oldest continuous traditions of storytelling in the world, and certainly among the most highly developed.
Wayang is well integrated in Javanese society, and it is considered to be a highlight of Javanese culture. Wayang is a Javanese word meaning "shadow" or "ghost" and is a theatrical performance of living actors (wayang orang), three dimensional puppets (wayang golek) or shadow images projected before a backlit screen (wayang kulit).
The wayang kulit use two-dimensional puppets chiseled by hand of buffalo or goat parchment; like paper dolls, but with arms that swivel. A wayang kulit puppet is a stylized exaggeration of a human shape. Most of the stories performed in the shadow puppet shows are from Indian epics but they were transformed by generations of Javanese tellers.
The dalang (puppeteer) manipulates the puppets, sings and taps out signals to the orchestra. He also speaks the parts for all characters; he must be able to render the shy sweetness in the voice of a princess, the spiteful whine of a lackey and the righteous but controlled anger of a noble hero.

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