Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Baris Tunggal Dance Performance at Ubud Royal Palace, Bali.

For more information on Balinese baris dances, see my previous post on the subject:

We have no description by Covarrubias about this type of baris dance because it was not until the mid-twentieth century (Covarrubias visited Bali in the 1930s) that baris tunggal started being danced. The Baris tunggal dance is a deployment of skills and artistic brilliance, it uses all Balinese war dances' codified movements and develops them into a solo performance where the dancer exposes them in as an impressive as the codes of the dance allow. That is why this dance is one of the most beloved in the repertoire of the Balinese and is never lacking in performances for tourists and presentations abroad.

The performance of the tunggal baris dance was part of the dance event (with 8 different dances in total) I saw at the Ubud Royal Palace on July 2, 2009.

Seeing a very young dancer (sometimes the women dance, but this time it was a man) of relatively short stature grow before my eyes during the course of the choreography and project a strength and weight that would be considered proper of mature dancers made me remember (as always in any eastern theater performance) the principles of Theatre Anthropology and in particular the very interesting study by Patricia Carmona "La percepción del espectador": movements and postures based on anthropological principles of the scene, where the body acquires a measure beyond the ordinary and overcomes all its limitations when it begins its creative activity, doing something which for the viewer is "extra-ordinary" and remaining that way forever in spectator's memory.

Like all warrior dances, baris tunggal has some primitive structure that can be recognized in a kind of marking of territory and the exhibition of power through the enlargement of the body-warrior figure-dancer, enlargement that is achieved through the managing of clothing, arms and feet.

On the other hand, the baris tunggal has a unique characteristic, a degree of improvisation, an improvisation in a clear oriental style, where the movements are physical actions that the dancer links as a chain of actions ( an individual montage) depending on the situation or on his creative state. In this sense there is a close relationship between the musicians playing the drum, the ugal (the Balinese xylophone) and the dancer: the musicians watch the movements and changes in the choreography and which the dancer flags with precise signals. They are phrases that the music makes together with movements and, prompted by the change indicated by the dancer so do the phrases (music and choreography) change and are thus recognized by all participants.

A video is probably not the best way to experience it, but it is the closest to share it to those who couldn’t be there. In any case I should clarify that when I see the performance anew through the video, I felt a loss in power of what I would call energy bursts and which the spectator perceives through a movement of the eyes or through a surprise impulse in the movement of the dancer's body, a dramatic projection which, nevertheless, a keen eye recognizes because they are clearly marked in the choreography.

I do not know the name of the dancer and he's probably not one of the stars of Balinese theatre, but the technique of his movement and his mastery offer what I call "assured stage quality”, something that is intrinsic to most of the traditional codified eastern theatre and even to western codified techniques such as ballet (through the body) and opera (through voice): it is watching a performance with actors (dancers or singers) who have been trained for years to make these movements on stage exactly as they must be done; it's an assurance of technical quality.

It’s 9 minutes long, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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