Bali, the "Island of a thousands temples," is renowned for its unique and colorful performing art-forms. There is a huge variety of dance genres and styles as well as more than forty different types of gamelan ensembles, all with their own instrumentation, repertoire and tunings. Against this background of seemingly endless creativity, there are in fact a number of Bali's gamelan and dance styles threatened with extinction. Most of these art-forms originated in the great Hindu courts of the Majapahit Empire, the "golden age" of Balinese creativity.
With the decline of the courts in the early 20th century, and the influence of tourism, modernism and globalization over the last thirty years, these delicate and stylized genres, in particular the court genres of Pelegongan and Semar Pagulingan, have started to die out. Today there remain only a handful of active ensembles and a small group of young girls who have mastered the difficult dance style known as legong.
Over the years, the mass media has erroneously used the term "legong"' as a catch-all phrase for the gamut of Balinese dance-forms. Legong is, in fact, a very specific, highly stylized genre of female dance, once performed exclusively by pre-pubescent girls. Unlike simpler modern dances, it takes years of intensive training and dedication to master legong, and only a few of the most beautiful and talented dancers manage to make the grade.
Preserving Balinese Dance and Music - Mekar Bhuana
People are gradually becoming aware of the endangered status of these art-forms with a small and dedicated group of culturally concerned people now working together to revive them.
One such organizations is Mekar Bhuana, based in Sanur. Founded after more than eight years of intensive research in villages across the island, legong dancer Putu Evie Suyadnyani and her New Zealand husband, ethnomusicologist Wayan Pon Smara (Vaughan Hatch), have realized their vision of cultural preservation by providing a center where people can come, appreciate and be educated about the endangered performing art-forms in Bali. The center boasts five sets of antique gamelan, a performance space, as well as an archive.
The association members are drawn from a group of more than fifty musicians and dancers involving a specialist teacher or guru still conversant with the ancient repertoire. Mekar Bhuana's young dancers are talented and enthusiastic the result of years of intensive training and dedication to the near-forgotten classical legong style. Through practices, performances and audio and video recordings, Mekar Bhuana is working to preserve the classical music and dance, entertainments that were once performed for the exclusive entertainment of Bali's aristocracy.
While many Bali's palaces no longer have the power or authority to nurture the classical performing arts, Mekar Bhuana continues these rich traditions in special performance for modern audiences of tourists and locals staged in intimate garden settings, framed by flaming torches.
Cultural Tourism at its Very Best
The outreach programs of Mekar Bhuana are numerous. Courses are held for interested student to learn classical Balinese gamelan or dance. There are private and group courses for beginners, as well as workshop programs for larger groups. Special tours are conducted to visit workshops where traditional instruments are made. Presentations of the rich array of traditional dance and ceremonial costumes can be presented, with photo sessions for visitors adorned in Balinese finery easily arranged. But the true calling of the organization remains the presentation of faithful classical gamelan and dance entertainments certain to enrich any occasion.
Mekar Bhuana is located on Jalan Pungutan 19, Br. Sindu Kelod in Sanur.
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