Kecak Dance

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Translated as ‘Angelic God,’ Sanghyang Dedari is a sacred dance that usually involves young or teenage dancers due to their purity. The dance is mostly performed inside the temple as part of a sacred ceremony meant to plead for the welfare of people as well as their village. During the ceremony, two young virgin girls would invoke the angels to enter their body which is confirmed when the two girls faint as it is believed that the angels have taken control of their bodies (Stepputat 8). Dancers have to be in a trance state when performing Sanghyang Dedari which allow them to make wonderful movements. The state of trance starts before the beginning of the dance while the ceremony starts within the temple before the procession marches to where the event is held. In most cases, girls are carried on the men’s shoulder during the dance (Stepputat 9). The Sanghyang can be described as a purification ritual that is mainly performed to free a village from plagues or illnesses. When a Sanghyang is being performed, a medium falls into a trance and is later entered by god-like supernatural beings or gods who show their will via the medium. Priests are responsible for watching over the performance particularly the dancing girls to ensure that they awake them using holy water and special chants in case the trance end up being too extreme (Stepputat 9).

Trance ritual and an example from a different culture or country.

Trance ritual entails a dance where the performers and sometimes the audience take part in a trance by means of incense, music, prayers, and occasionally drugs. Trance can entail a changed consciousness state where the audience meet with the spirit world and at times end up being possessed by gods and sometimes animistic spirits. At times, trance rituals can be uncontrollable in their power and spontaneity which creates an element of actual danger to both the audience and the performer (Stepputat 12). Trance rituals are not limited to Bali as they have spread to most part of Asia as well as Africa. An example of trance ritual is the trance dance practiced by the San community in the Kalahari region, which entail the altering of consciousness and achieved via hyperventilation and rhythmic dancing.

Walter Spies and how does he figure in the history and development of Kecak

Walter Spies (1895-1942) was a German scholar and artist who lived in Bali since 1927. Spies was also a gifted musician and pianist who is identified as one of the most influential and important individuals in the history of Balinese artistic. According to Kunst, the greatest achievements of Spies as a musician is based on his studies of Balinese music although he never published (Stepputat 17). Together with other artists living or visiting Bali, Spies worked to gain a lot of knowledge of Balinese dance and music and had close and intense contacts with the community and its culture.

Spies is a significant figure in the history and development of Kecak as he contributed to the first step of the visual transformation of Sanghyang into Kecak. Spies organized a Sanghyang performance with some minor changes and collaborated with the Balinese dance Wayan Limbak and the villagers of Bedulu to choreograph the cak chorus (Stepputat 53). After the first performances of Kecak, the art started to spread with Walter Spies playing a central role in the process as e organized and arranged the Kecak group when the General Governor of the Netherlands Indies visited. Under Water Spies’ influence and collaboration with Balinese artists in the 1930s, Kecak was created and has gone on to become a traditionally and typically Balinese icon (Stepputat 12).

Typical performance setting of Kecak

The performance of Kecak is commonly done by an all-male chorus of approximately 100 men who sit in concentric circles surrounding candelabra lit with fire commonly referred to as damar kecak. The chorus is commonly referred to as pengecak and is divided into groups of two or three men who sing together. In most cases, the audience entails people seeking to be entertained without any religious or ritual context (Stepputat 50). The whole performance of Kecak takes one hour and is usually performed on a covered pavilion or an open-air stage so as to mix the shifting light of dusk into the performance’s rising tension.

Work cited

Stepputat, Kendra. "The Genesis of a dance-genre: Walter Spies and the kecak." Die Ethnographen des letzten Paradieses: Victor von Plessen und Walter Spies in Indonesien [The Ethnographers of the last Paradise: Victor von Plessen and Walter Spies in Indonesia]. Bielefeld: transcript (2010): 1-19.

Stepputat, Kendra. "Performing Kecak: A Balinese Dance Tradition between Daily Routine and Creative Art." Yearbook for Traditional Music 44 (2012): 49-70.

October 05, 2023

Culture Music

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