Maybe I’m just getting older, but while I used to find Thai and Cambodian traditional dance dull when I lived in the countries that produced the style, I find myself these days enjoying the slightly less staid Balinese dance.
While Balinese dances can be incredibly intricate and slow moving, there’s an element of almost slapstick humour in some of the dances and performances (such as kecak, best seen at Pura Uluwatu), while Ubud is home to the greatest array of dances that are easily accessible to tourists.
A Legong-style performance at the 16th century Ubud palace is well worth setting aside a few hours for. The “palace” in terms of a performance space may not be what you’d expect — it’s simply the palace courtyard, a large flat area filled with plastic chairs and blocked from prying eyes by tarpaulins strung around the outer edge. The stage is a raised platform however, so you can quite easily see the performance even if stuck behind someone tall.
Either side of the stage is flanked with members of a gamelan orchestra, whose frenzied, rich music warms the crowd up before the first glittering dancers appear. The programme we saw was a series of careful, colourful performances, beginning with Puspa Wresti or the welcome dance. Next up, a mask dance (with rather freaky Mona Lisa eyes on the mask, let me tell you), then Kebyar Duduk from northern Bali, the sacred Kupu Kupu Tarum, or butterfly dance, and then a version of the famed Legong Kraton. To be a Legong dancer used to be the pinnacle of a Balinese dancer’s success — but it was a pinnacle reached before the age of around 14, by which time a girl would retire.
Dance performances are held all around Ubud and its outskirts, we saw a Saturday night performance by the Bina Remaja Troupe, beginning at 19:30. Ticket sellers mill around the top of Monkey Forest Road, opposite the palace courtyard, and though it seems a tad dodgy, you simply pay your 80,000 rupiah to them for your ticket (prices can vary for different events), which is actually the programme or brochure (reading “ticket” on the front).
Get in early to get a seat close to the front. A few drink sellers walk around before the performance, so you can sip on something while you wait, and we were told there was a bathroom around the back, though we didn’t need to use it.
We actually bought our tickets then walked 100 metres or so up the road to have a coffee and cake at Casa Luna ahead of the dance starting; we headed in at about 19:15 and got seats about half-way back from the stage, which were decent enough.
By Samantha Brown.
Last updated on 29th January, 2017.
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