Kecak Dance

The Kecak is an unusual Balinese dance for a couple of reasons. First, there is no musical accompaniment. The gamelan is not there. Rhythm is provided by a chanting 'monkey' chorus. The polyrhythmic sound of the chanting provides the name, 'Ke-chak'.

The story line for the Kecak is taken from the Ramayana. Prince Rama goes hunting for a golden deer and his beautiful wife is kidnapped by the evil Rawana. Story is secondary in this performance, though. If you want to see the story of the Ramayana, you should see a Ramayana performance. The Kecak is a triumph of style and mood, rather than story. Watch the faces of audience members. More than any other Balinese dance, the Kecak turns every viewer into a child, wide-eyed and transfixed.

The fifty man chorus gathers in a ring around a flame to create a stage. They also act as various monkey armies in the story and become an undulating snake in one of the pivotal scenes. With only the flame as lighting, this performance takes on a primeval feel, especially when staged outside of a hotel setting. Secondly, the kecak is one of the only dances that invented for tourists. It’s almost never watched by the Balinese.

Kecak is a form of Balinese dance and music drama, originated in the 1930s Bali and is performed primarily by men, although a few women's kecak groups exist as of 2006. Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, the piece, performed by a circle of 150 or more performers wearing checked cloth around their waists, percussively chanting "cak" and throwing up their arms, depicts a battle from the Ramayana where the monkey-like Vanara helped Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. However, Kecak has roots in sanghyang, a trance-inducing exorcism dance.

 

History

Kecak was originally a trance ritual accompanied by male chorus. German painter and musician Walter Spies became deeply interested in the ritual while living in Bali in the 1930s and worked to recreate it into a drama, based on the Hindu Ramayana and including dance, intended to be presented to Western tourist audiences. This transformation is an example of what James Clifford describes as part of the "modern art-culture system" in which, "the West or the central power adopts, transforms, and consumes non-Western or peripheral cultural elements, while making 'art' which was once embedded in the culture as a whole, into a separate entity." 
 
"Spies worked with Wayan Limbak and Limbak popularized the dance by traveling throughout the world with Balinese performance groups. These travels have helped to make the Kecak famous throughout the world. Performer, choreographer, and scholar I Wayan Dibia cites a contrasting theory that the Balinese were already developing the form when Spies arrived on the island. For example, well-known dancer I Limbak had incorporated Baris movements into the cak leader role during the 1920s. "Spies liked this innovation," and it suggested that Limbak, "devise a spectacle based on the Ramayana," accompanied by cak chorus rather than gamelan, as would have been usual.

 

Kecak Story

What makes the Kecak special is that the accompanying music is provided by the human voice, the gamelan voice, a choir of a hundred men or more sitting in concentric circles, swaying, standing up, lying prone as the story develops. Amongst the swaying masses the voices of the storytellers can be heard telling the unfolding tale.

The story is a fragment from the Ramayana, the Hindu epic which finds its expression in many forms, not only in dance, but also in painting and carving. Prince Rama, heir to the throne of the kingdom of Ayodya, and his wife Sita have been banished from the kingdom by King Dasarata as a result of trickery by Rama’s stepmother.

The story begins with the arrival of Rama and Sita accompanied by Rama’s brother Laksmana in the forest of Dandaka. The trio has been observed by the demon Rahwana, King of Alengka, who lusts after the beautiful Sita. Rahwana sends his prime’s minister Marica to try and isolate Sita so that Rahwana can kidnap her. Marica's magical powers turn him into a golden deer and he enters the forest and when the Sita sees the golden deer she is so enchanted by it that she asks Rama to capture it for her. Rama chases after the deer leaving his brother Laksamana behind with strict instuction to protec Sita. When Sita thinks she hears a cry for help from Rama she forces Laksamana to go after Rama by accusing him of cowardice and he goes off to help Rama with great reluctance after drawing a magic circle on the ground and telling Sita that she should not under any circumstance to step outside the circle.

Sita, left alone in the forest becomes an easy prey to the trickery of Rahwana who has disguised himself has an old periest and bags Sita for some food as he is cold and hungry. Sita falls for for his trick, she steps outside the circle to give the old priest some food and rahwana grabs her and takes her to his palace. Once back in his palace in Alengka, Rahwana tries everything he can to seduce Sita without any luck.

In the palace of Alengka, Sita pours out her heart about her cruel fate to Rahwana's niece Trijata, when Hanoman appears telling her that he is Rama's envoy and proving it by showing her Rama's ring. Sita gives Hanoman a hairpin to show she is still alive and sand him back to Rama with a massage to come to her rescue.

In the meantime Rama and Laksamana accompanied by Tualen are wandering in the forest looking for Sita when Meganada, Rahwana's son, appeares and engages Rama and Laksamana in Battle. Meganada uses his magic powers and shoots of an arrow which magically turns in to a dragon which overpowers Rama and Laksamana and they are trussed up in ropes.

The bird Garuda, King of all the bird, a good friend of King Dasarata, has observed trouble Rama is in from high up in the sky and comes to the rescue freeing the brothers from the ropes. Rama and Laksamana continue on their way to rescue Sita and are joined by Sugriwa, king of the monkeyes, and his monkey’s army. This fragmen of the Ramayana come to an end with the bittle between Sugriwa and his Monkeys Army and Meganada and his Demon Army which ends with the defeat of Meganada.

Galleries