On Bali, dancing is still a regular part of Balinese life. Most Balinese dancing is closely related to the classical dancing of other Southeast Asian cultures. There are many similarities between the classical khon dances of Thailand and the Balinese Barong and Legong dances. These are all similar to western ballet, in that they tell a story.
The choir for the Kecak dance make their entrance
But an absolute "must see" for visitors to Bali is the Kecak dance performance. This is the most unique form of Balinese dance, so be sure to reserve an evening for it. You've probably seen pictures of this dance. Rather than the Gamelan orchestra that is typical of other Balinese dances, as well as most Southeast Asian classical dancing, in the Kecak the only music is provided by a large chorus of bare-chested men and boys sitting in a circle just in front of the audience. This choir provides a constant accompaniment to the story, and even become actors towards the end.
Beyond the circle of the dance, the sun sets into the sea next to the temple.
We saw the Kecak in the wonderful setting of the Uluwatu temple near the Southern tip of Bali. The temple is set dramatically high on a cliff that drops straight into the blue sea below. The temple has a large population of greedy monkeys, so watch out for anything that can be easily grabbed. The performance is held on an open-air stage just beyond the temple with the sun setting into the sea in the background.
Sita and escort enter the scene.
The story is simple, and its not really necessary for you to know it to appreciate the dance. The dance depicts a sub-plot from the Hindu epic the Ramayana. In the story the wife of Rama, Sita, is kidnapped by Rama's arch-enemy, the king of Lanka, and taken to his palace of Alengka.
In his search for Sita, Rama enlists the aid of the red monkey king Sugriwa. Together they select Hanoman, a white monkey with magical powers, to find Alengka and seek out Sita. Rama gives Hanoman his ring so that he can prove his identity to Sita when he finds her.
Hanuman shows Sita Rama's ring.
Hanoman finds Sita, gives her the ring, and attempts to destroy the palace where Sita is held, but is caught. In perhaps one of the performance's most dramatic scenes, Hanuman is bound and placed in a ring of straw that is set on fire. The sun has set by this time, so we see the white and gold monkey dance back and forth over the burning straw, eventually kicking the sparks up into the air as he chases off his persecutors. The great general returns with his army of monkey warriors, portrayed by the choir. The bad guys are defeated. Sita is reunited with Rama. The end.
The Kecak is so popular among tourists that you can find performances almost anywhere on Bali. The best place, in our opinion, is the cliff-top temple of Ulu Watu.