The Dramatic Kecak Dance: Episode Taken from the Ramayana Epic Poem
A visit to the dramatic island of Bali will not be complete without watching some of the most captivating traditional performances the island has to offer. Aside from Barong and Janger Dances, another dazzling performance you definitely don’t want to miss is the traditional Kecak Dance, one of Balinese artistic masterpieces in the form of a dance and musical drama.
Held in the open air at sunset , usually above a cliff facing the sea, the drama depends entirely on the natural light of day. Starting at dusk, the story continues into the dark, when only light comes only from flickering bamboo torches.
What makes this dance particularly unique is that the drama uses no artificial backdrop, involving no musical instrument. The focus is entirely on the concentric circles of about 50-60 men, bare-chested, wearing only distinct Balinese sarongs sitting cross-legged around a set of torches in the center.
Instead of the traditional “gamelan” orchestra which usually accompanies other Balinese traditional performances, the Kecak is simply accompanied by the chanting of the chorus of men representing an army of monkeys continuously intoning “Cak! Cak! Cak!” or “Keh-Chak" in polyrhythmic sounds during almost the entire performance. This amazing human voiced orchestra is led by a soloist, who is in charge of indicating the high and low notes, and also acts as narrator. The effect, after a while, is to provide a wall of dramatic sound against which the action of the play is enacted.
The performance relates the shorter version of the epic Ramayana Saga with dancers playing as Rama, Shinta (Sita), Lakshmana, Rahwana (Ravana), Hanoman (Hanuman), Sugriwa (Sugriva), and other characters. The storyline starts when Prince Rama wanders into the woods with his wife Shinta and brother Lakshmana. There, the giant Rahwana kidnaps Shinta and holds her in his palace. Rama then seeks help and sends Lakhsmana to find his friend Sugriwa, the King of the Monkey Kingdom. Sugriwa sends his commander the white monkey, by the name of Hanoman, to check on Shinta in Rahwana’s Palace.
A dramatic scene is portrayed when Hanoman is captured by Rahwana’s troops and put inside a circle of fire to burn him alive. Instead of burning to crisp, the white monkey warrior remains unharmed and breaks out only to burn Rahwana’s palace instead. Thus, began the battle between the two forces.
At first, Rahwana and his troops manage to overrun Rama. However, Sugriwa and Hanoman then come to Rama’s aid along with the rest of the monkey troops, defeat the evil king once and for all.
Kecak Dance is said to originate from a Balinese ancient ritual called Sanghyang, aimed as a form of exorcism or to repel evil spirits in which dancers fall into a trance. The dance first appeared in 1930, after Balinese Dancer, Wayan Limbak worked together with German painter Walter Spies to create a dramatic performance version of the Sanghyang by incorporating the epic Ramayana saga. They took the innovation on a world tour, thus the dance became popular ever since.
Kecak Dance is regularly performed in many places all over Bali Island. However, the best place to watch this spectacular show is at the Pura Uluwatu, where the dance is performed daily with as background the dramatic sunset. The dance can also be found at Tanah Lot, GWK Cultural Park, Pura Dalem Ubud, Padang Tegal Stage, Batubulan, Umadewi Stage, and more.