It is a couple paces before sundown. The sky becomes a kaleidoscopic shade of colours and the wind breezes from the sea, slowly waving goodbye to the sun. This is Uluwatu Beach, a stretch of soft sand under the cliff of a mountain hill on the island of Bali. It is one of Indonesia’s prides, a breathtaking beauty of nature that is famous even to the international scope. But, beyond its tourism reputation, it is a place where ancient tradition thrives and cultural heritages conserved. Close to sunset, people gather on the top of the cliff where an open theatre was constructed.
Unannounced and without warning, a group of men emerge. Bare-chested, with only calf length pants under their Balinese chessboard sarong and a stem of fresh hibiscus behind everyone’s ear. They take their place in the centre, sitting on the gravel ground, forming a large circle. Uninstructed, the audience take their seat on a stone bench, absorbing the solemn aura from the performers and hush themselves down to total silence. They are about to witness the magic of Kecak dance.
In a sudden beat, a chorus of sound echoes out, coming in unison from the fifty or so performers. A relentless chant of fast pacing vocal: “cak, cak, cak” immediately surrounds the place. Without any musical instrument, this chant will go on throughout the performance, manipulating a perpetual sound effect that would bring anyone’s senses up and down along with the story. There is no sound system, no lighting, not even a roof. But the combination of natural elements from the sky, the sea and the earth, culminates an experience that no theatrical technologies can produce. Seated on the ground, their bodies move rigorously in close contact, hands perpetually on the air, arms waving as if winds and fingers flickering as if fires. They move to the organic sound that changes beats and rhythm without warning, one time low hums and other time piercing in high pitched screams.
The dance tells the story of Ramayana, of a god named Rama who fought his way through the evil demon who abducted his wife Sita. It is an ancient epic originated from India that through centuries of religion and cultural dispersions has been adopted into many forms of Indonesia’s culture. For Balinese, Kecak dance is one of many forms of manifestations of their cultural values. It has become part of their life, inherited through many generations. The performers who sat in that theatre in Uluwatu, deliver not only a beautiful sight of arts, but also express their own act of worship to their religion.
The dance is best known for its complexity, creating a dramatic effect through the chaotic yet harmonious choreography. From a mysterious down tempo rhythm, to the vigorous velocity of heartbeat, it absorbs into the audience’s emotions. Planted from the root of their ancestors, the dance truly reflects the Balinese spirits and has become one of Indonesia’s priceless heritage assets.
(Written by : Katia Pelangi Putri Sudarmo [9E], a participant of “Writing Competition” SMPK 6 PENABUR)