Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New dance explores ancient tale

It is the most popular and enduring inter-ethnic love story known to Balinese.

The king of Panarajon, the ancient kingdom which lay somewhere near the idyllic modern tourist destination of Kintamani, falls for the daughter of a wealthy Chinese merchant and, despite their tragic end, both are elevated to the status of divine deities upon their demise. Sacred effigies of the lovers are still found at major religious ceremonies in villages across Bali.

Their role in modern day Bali is still quite similar to the one they assumed in the island's ancient past; as the benevolent protectors of their people from bad things, including, but not only, evil spirits, plagues, and natural disasters.

The effigies, tall dolls known locally as Barong Landung, are not their only legacy. The existence of a Chinese temple inside the compound of one of Bali's oldest Hindu temples, the use of Chinese coins in Hindu rituals and the generally friendly relationship between the two ethnic communities have all been attributed to this love story.

"The story is also one of the most obvious examples of the open, tolerant nature of Balinese culture. That the local, indigenous culture could live harmoniously with a new culture is an important lesson we could draw from this story," I Made Bandem said.

Bandem, one of the most respected scholars in Bali, is the brains behind a new dance interpretation of the ancient story.

The dance was choreographed by Swasthi Wijaya and the Kebyar musical accompaniment was composed by I Nyoman Windha.

It took the three of them one month to create the dance and the process didn't take place in Bali but in Montpellier, in the south of France, when Makaradhwaja, Bandem's performing arts troupe, was touring the region in early 2008.

The audience offered warm applause when the dance ended.

For the Balinese, however, it is more than just a story. The Chinese temple in Balingkang and the Panarajon Hindu temple in Kintamani are proof to them that love knows no boundaries; religious or ethnic.

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