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    Tropical Storm Tour: Bali Part 27

    Sunday, September 20, 2015
    Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

    Tofu, mushrooms and rice, and Lawar Bali vegetables for lunch at Arimas Warung in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
    Tofu, mushrooms and rice, and Lawar Bali vegetables for lunch at Arimas Warung in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

    Lighting the fire at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
    Lighting the fire at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

    Desa Adat Sambahan performs the Kecak Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
    Desa Adat Sambahan performs the Kecak Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

    I bought a ticket for a Kecak Fire and Trance Dance at Pura Batu Karu, a temple one kilometer north of Ubud Palace. When I arrived there at 6:00 pm, the usual 90 minutes before showtime, a couple of guys who worked there were surprised I wanted to enter the venue so early. One of them tried to talk me into getting an hour-long massage before the show. I declined and went to claim my seat, front and center. Sure enough, five or 10 minutes after I did, a Chinese couple showed up and plopped down right next to me. “You got the best seat!” the woman exclaimed, even though she was just slightly right of center. Not more than a few minutes later, several more people showed up and clustered around the middle, leaving one seat open to my left. Just think if I would have accepted that offer of an hour-long massage! I would have found myself smack dab in the back row!

    Desa Adat Sambahan performs the Kecak Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
    Desa Adat Sambahan performs the Kecak Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

    Desa Adat Sambahan performs the Kecak Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
    Desa Adat Sambahan performs the Kecak Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

    Desa Adat Sambahan performs the Kecak Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
    Desa Adat Sambahan performs the Kecak Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

    As time wore on, more and more people kept piling into the place and filling up all of the available plastic chairs, which surprised me because there were a lot of them, and this venue was pretty far from the center of town. A huge part of the reason, I found out after the show but assumed anyway, was several big buses showed up and dumped out a bunch of Chinese tourists. From what I’ve been able to gather, the French and the Chinese pretty much own Ubud now. A short while before showtime, one man spent a few minutes with a small torch lighting up a tree-like sculpture full of gas lamps in the center of the performance space. Then a procession of 100 bare-chested Balinese men spilled out of the temple gate and formed a giant circle–standing, sitting, laying down or swaying–all the while emitting the famous “cha-chack” sound of the Kecak or Monkey Dance.

    Desa Adat Sambahan performs the Kecak Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
    Desa Adat Sambahan performs the Kecak Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

    Desa Adat Sambahan prepares to perform the Fire Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
    Desa Adat Sambahan prepares to perform the Fire Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

    Desa Adat Sambahan relaxes after the Fire Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
    Desa Adat Sambahan relaxes after the Fire Dance at Pura Batu Karu in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

    The original idea to transform the Kecak from a trance ritual into a performance for tourists came from the mind of a German artist named Walter Spies, who was living in Bali back in the 1930s. One of Spies’ ideas was to forgo the gamelan, to be replaced by the vocal chorus, which is the only sound produced during the performance; no instruments ever appear. Aside from the choir, numerous characters appeared and acted out a story from the Ramayana, a Hindu epic, including Prince Rama, his wife Sita, the demon Rahwana (aka the King of Alenka), Sita’s brother Laksamana, Garuda the bird king, and Hanuman the monkey king. The main, uh, thrust of the story concerned Rahwana’s lust for Sita, and all of the battles that ensued.

    A vegetable salad for dinner at Cafe Wayan in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
    A vegetable salad for dinner at Cafe Wayan in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

    A vegetable burrito for dinner at Lemonade Restaurant in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
    A vegetable burrito for dinner at Lemonade Restaurant in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

    The second and final performance came in the form of the Fire Dance, or Sanghyang Djaran, which featured a man in trance riding an oversized hobby horse in circles as he kicked around a whole mess of flaming and smoking coconut shells. When all was said and done and the tourists were packing up to leave, the trance man sat on the ground sans horse for a long time, staring at the smoldering remnants of the fire with his palms pressed together in respect to this most elemental of forces. A few people threw money between his legs, while a couple of others snapped photos. Then everyone either boarded a bus or walked back down the hill to Ubud and called it a night.

    Words and photos ©2015 Arcane Candy.

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