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Balinese Dance, Drama and Music: A Guide to the Performing Arts of Bali    by I Wayan Dibia, Rucina Ballinger & Barbara Anello order for
Balinese Dance, Drama and Music
by I Wayan Dibia
Order:  USA  Can
Periplus, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

When I spent time in Bali in 1978 during a world trip, I was fascinated by glimpses of its rich and complex culture, but had little understanding of it, so was immediately intrigued by this book. Balinese Dance, Drama and Music introduces the island's gamelan music, dance, drama and shadow puppetry. It's beautifully illustrated, with watercolor sketches and color photographs interspersed through the text on every page. There are reading and discography lists at the back of the book.

The authors tell us that traditional Balinese performing arts originate in historical rituals, are strongly linked to the past, and form a community pursuit. They are performed at temple festivals, weddings and funerals to 'please the deities and ancestral spirits', expressing values like balance and harmony. Exceptional artists and healers are felt to be blessed with taksu (a spiritual charisma). They move between seen and unseen worlds, and often enter trance states. Children learn the arts early in life, mimicking the form of a teacher.

In dance, specific hand gestures, stances and eye movements have meaning, described in the book. Breath control is important. Some involve use of a fan. Costuming and make-up are elaborate and vivid, the former including headgear and masks. We're told there are over thirty types of gamelan ensembles in Bali - 'clashing cymbals, booming gongs and clanging keys, all with a complex drum beat holding it together'. All kinds are presented in the book, including Sacred and Marching Gamelan, and Bamboo Ensembles.

The book discusses the many stories expressed in Balinese theater - episodes from the well known Hindu Ramayana and Mahabharata epics, as well as others unique to the island. Shadow puppetry (enjoyed by all ages) is performed by one person, the dalang, with several helpers. Each show portrays the struggle between good and evil. Many styles of Dance are introduced from Topeng to Barong/Rangda dances, Legong, and others, including contemporary forms.

If you're interested in Balinese culture, or are planning a trip to this fascinating Indonesian island, Balinese Dance, Drama and Music offers a valuable, visual, in-depth introduction to the region's performing arts.

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