Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Week in Ubud

We returned directly to the Yayasan that afternoon from the Gilis, where Alison was preparing Group C for the big performance on Friday of the musical they wrote. The musical features twists on familiar hits “A, B, C,” “Doe, a deer, a female deer,” “We Will Rock You,” and “We’re All in This Together.” The story goes something like this: classmates tease one student mercilessly. She decides she has had enough. She happens to have learned magic from a man in the mountains (Balinese believe good spirits live in the mountains). He told her not to misuse it, but she forgets what the man said, and turns her classmates into books and pens. The books and pens do a song about being books and pens, and then beg their sorceress-peer to make them children again. She tries, but is unable to turn them back. But with the help of the audience, she restores to them their childrenhood. Hooray! We’re all in this together!

It is a very endearing show, and I got to attend rehearsals and take some action shots:

The students wrote the story themselves and adapted the songs with help from Alison and another Dutch volunteer, Antoinette. What I was seeing was a near-finished product, with full choreography and costuming soon to come. Rehearsals all week prepared Group C for a strong show on Friday in front of all the volunteers, the other children at the center, and visiting friends including the founder of the Yayasan.

Making thank-you cards for Antoinette by tracing their hands:

After the show, in full costume:

We also went to three different shows at different venues in Ubud. We saw the Balinese Ramayana – their take on an ancient and celebrated story of Rama and Cinta in their struggle against evil forces. We had seen a Javanese performance of this story in Yogyakarta.

Rama prays for the fallen bird to go to heaven:

The awesome white monkey-general, force of good and acrobatics (complete with cute child monkey performers):

The second show was perhaps the most remarkable. It featured stories from the Mahabarata epic, accompanied by women’s kecak (pronounced kay-chock). Kecak is a large vocal ensemble that takes the place of the gamelan. They imitate the sounds of the gamelan and can be used creatively as part of the staging and set as well. Usually it is performed in a circle around a fire. Sixty-three women using vocal melody and percussion to sound just like the energetic Balinese gamelan, all while gathered around a fire. It is a primal experience. Especially notable at this performance was that the kecak was women. Traditionally, women are not allowed to perform in the Balinese gamelan. Kecak is similarly always done by men. But this troupe, the only one of its kind in Bali, is making a statement and it is certainly a unique performance. Here is the kecak before dancers enter:

With dancers:

This show ended with a trance dance, in which a Balinese man dressed up like a horse actually went into a trance and charged through piles of coconut husks that had been lit on fire – dragging his feet through the pile and scattering the coals and lit husks. It was like a Balinese walk-on-hot-coals. I think he was actually convinced he was a horse, and was totally immersed in the experience. After every charge, two other men would sweep the coals into a new pile for him to run through. When the coals were only glowing softly, the two men held back the one who was in a trance so that the Hindu priest could help him return to himself. It was a sight to behold, and if I had internet that functioned well, I would post the full video.

A third performance we saw featured a physically demanding seated fire dance (this time not literal fire but fire in the movements, and I guess the dancer did sit down a lot), a dance depicting Balinese fishermen and their daily life, the Balinese warrior dance showing a warrior going through a kaleidoscope of emotion before battle, and another dance or two I can’t remember. The venue was the Ubud Water Temple – a downright badass temple setting with long pools of water lilies, massive ancient jungle trees, and the romantic stonework of the temple itself. The troupe billed itself as a group of child performers, by which they mean they started performing together in their teens and in their current form they averaged maybe 20 years old. The gamelan was unbelievable. They were so well synchronized that they sounded like one voice even while playing at blazing speeds. It was the most precise gamelan I have ever seen, and they even switched instruments from one part of the performance to the next. A true gamelan player is expected to be able to play all the instruments of the gamelan well, and these guys actually lived it.

This is from the so-called seated fire dance:

Here, one of the dances I can’t remember:

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