Kecak Dance at Uluwatu temple- Bali

The stage prior to the performance

After walking around the temple, it was time to go to one of the main reasons we came to this temple specifically- the Kecak dance performance. Kecak is a very interesting form of chanting/singing that involves about 50 bare-chested men in checkered skirts. Balinese music is all very multi-textural so they chant the word “cak” at different rhythms and times in order to create a very interesting sound and enough rhythm with which to dance. I just thought we would be seeing the kecak noise makers dance around in formation, but what we ended up seeing was a version of the Ramayana which is a traditional Hindu story about the gods Rama and Sita. Rama and Sita are in love and Rama sees a deer and goes after it to hunt it, leaving Sita in the forest by herself. She is captured by the evil Ravana and taken away. Rama realizes this and enlists the monkey king and his white monkey servant with magical powers to save Sita. Sita is saved and Ravana is killed. The end. That’s the synopsis.

At the start of the performance, the dancers all came running out with their hands up, before eventually circling up and sitting down. They seemed to do an introductory chant, which culminated in being blessed by a Hindu priest prior to the beginning of the play.  

After a little while, the dancers came out. The one on the left is Rama, the one on the right is Sita. I loved their costumes and especially their head pieces. they were so intricate and pretty. 

The evil Ravana- Scary dude!

Scary villain Ravana comes out and has a long fight scene with Sita. She does not come willingly or without a fight. The chanters helped protect her as much as they could, but eventually Ravana got her and put her on his shoudlers as seen above. 

Ravana parades around with Sita on his shoulders, all the while the sun is setting beautifully into the ocean

After Ravana leaves, the dancers rested for a moment in this interesting interwoven pattern. I was thinking they would need an intermission or something because they were literally chanting the entire time, but nope! Just little rest breaks here and there when one person would have a solo, and they powered through the whole performance… super impressive!

I got confused around this point. I think the guy in the red checkered skirt is the king of the monkeys, who sends the white monkey to rescue Sita. The guys on the right of the picture above work for the evil king, and tie the white monkey up and try to burn him. It all would have made much more sense if we had received the paper with the synopsis of the play in English so that we could follow along a bit and understand it as we were seeing it. As it were, we saw it and then read the synopsis later to kind of grasp what was going on!

Poor white monkey is all tied up and about to be burnt up!
Don’t worry kids! He escapes and actually kicked these flaming balls of twigs around the stadium.

The fire part of the dance was the coolest. They took the big centerpiece out of the ring, the kecak performers were further away from each other than ever, but the chanting was very intense because monkey was about to get burnt up. At the last moment, he breaks free and kicked all of these flaming balls of twigs around the stage. Some of the kecak performers had brooms to sweeps the embers away from their bare legs, and make sure a fire did not start during this part of the show. The white monkey was very brave and jumped in the circle of fire and out of it several times.

The white monkey escapes, and Sita is saved! In this part of the play, Ravana is lifted up by the chanters and Rama shoots him with his arrow and he falls down dead. 
Balinese dance is very interesting and reminds me of the only other exposure I’ve had to southeast Asian dance- The Burmese dancing in the King and I. It is very flowy at times and very jerky at times. The costumes were brightly colored and they even danced with their eyes. Landon’s favorite and my favorite character was the magic white monkey. This guy entered the play by jumping up on the wall above the seats and knocking around some flags and things that were placed there. Then he proceeded to climb around the audience, which was packed pretty tight in this little stadium/stage area. Then he would jump down from several rows up onto concrete with bare feet! He had bells on his legs, so you could really hear the impact and wow! I hope his feet are OK from doing that every night. Once he spied Landon, he knew he needed to come up so he climbed over the people in front of us to come pat Landon on the head and tousle his hair. The look on Landon’s face was absolutely priceless when this big monkey guy with a mask on came right up to him. Afterwards, he was not afraid though.

And now, for all the brave readers who would like to see a ten minute video of Kecak chant and Balinese dance, here is a video compilation of different aspects of the performance. If you want to skip to the good stuff, go to around minute 9 to see the white monkey pay us a visit!

Of course we had to get a picture with some of the dancers!

Although it was a later night for Landon, I’m glad we went and experienced this and the sunset over the ocean by Uluwatu temple. Being right there by the ocean was an awesome setting for the performance, and even Landon was intrigued by the bright costumes and different dance moves and rhythms. 

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