Finals have never been so fun. Professor Irving Johnson’s module on Balinese dance establishes new traditions in face of fiscal restrictions.
Since the inception of the module SE2224: Unmasked! An Introduction to Traditional Dance in Southeast Asia, I have attended previous sessions of their end-of-year performance. As such, I have observed the evolution of the Balinese dance performance and the events that led to a divergence in Taksu from previous years, such as 2015’s Calonarang.
Budgeting Problems Lead to New Presentation
In the previous two performances by Professor Johnson’s student cohorts, the performance took on a narrative structure. The central story built up towards the holy Barong’s stand-off with the witch-queen Rangda. Perhaps due to the semi-mystical nature of the dance itself, the use of the Rangda regalia necessitated the presence of a full gamelan ensemble. Facing a budget a quarter of that of 2015, the student cohort of 2016 had to look for other avenues, since hiring the gamelan was not possible.
Their solution was to exhibit several other Balinese dances. Each dance segment hosted different character archetypes and themes of Balinese dance with the students taking SE2224 along with members of Eka Suwara Santhi, Singapore’s only Balinese dance group.
This time, while the overall performance lacked structure, the concert still began with the Dance of the Barong. The 60 kilogram regalia, named Ratu Bagus (Singapore’s only sacred Barong), opened the performance masterfully. After which, each student group − and individual teachers – performed dances of the ancient Balinese tradition to a full house in Lecture Theatre 13 on the 11th of November.
The full regalia requires two male students to be trained in the art of the Barong dance – and possibly netting them full marks in what is ostensibly their final examination for this particular module.
You read that right; the whole concert was their final examination.
Honourable mentions are to be given to teachers Irving Johnson, I Made “Cat” Suteja, and Ni Kadek Dewi Aryani for their individual performances throughout the concert:
Professor Johnson distinguished himself with Topeng Dadong (Masked Dance of the Grandmother) particularly well. Playing a cheeky old woman, the dance portrayed not only Balinese views on ageing and life, but also the notion that age was more of a number than a mode of thinking. Blowing a kiss farewell as the curtain fell on her performance, Professor Johnson certainly played an old woman who remained young at heart.
Mr Suteja made an extremely cheeky friendly demon in the dance Jauk Manis. Such humorous characters, which usually exist in part of a Barong drama, have formed a narrative of their own through his interesting performance.
Ms Dewi was particularly glamourous in her Topeng Mas (Golden Mask) performance of the goddess Dewi Sri, bringing blessings to the world. Her effort in meticulously applying golden paint to her own skin for the performance requires extra commendation in the name of art.
Having said all that, the real efforts come from the multiple students of SE2224 who would likely look back upon their experiences of learning Balinese dance in Bali themselves with fondness. From welcoming fairies, to brave heavenly warriors, to cheeky monkeys, quite a gamut of characters were covered in this eye-opening and enjoyable performance from a tropical paradise.
All photos are writer’s own.