An archipelago with over 17,500 islands, Indonesia is not just about beaches and beach bums. There are so many traditions here and each community has its own unique cultural performances and dance dramas. Here are five of my favourites.
Kecak or "fire dance" is best watched in the open auditorium of a Bali temple. The story is borrowed from the Ramayana but the dance drama is more than just a show -- it's a ritual.The scenes are dramatic and the chorus, Chak Chak (called the monkey chant), is the main feature.The tempo of the chant rises and falls as the performers sway theirs arms, recreating symbolically the war between Rama's monkey army and Ravana's demons.
Tari Topeng Ireng
Borrowing heavily from martial arts, the Black Mask Dance or the Tari Topeng Ireng or Dayakan Dance has its origins in Magelang. Topeng in Indonesia means mask.Some of these masked dances convey legends of kings and heroes or they pay tribute to nature or ancestors as well. I saw this dance performed beautifully by kids.
The Ramayana Ballet
Set against the glimmering backdrop of the Prambanam temples in Jogja, the ambiance of the open air theatre across the River Opak really adds to the show. The Indonesian version of the Ramayana takes about a couple of hours as we relive the story from Rama, Sita and Lakshman leaving their kingdom and heading to the forest.
Saung Angklung Show
If you happen to be in Bandung, this is one cute little show that you must not miss. There is music in the air as little kids and adults sing, dance and play a musical instrument known as the angklung (made of bamboo tubes fitted into a frame made of bamboo too). The energy is infectious.
Traditionally a sport of the Manggarai people, I saw this energetic performance at the Milo Village in Flores. A ritual whip fight, it is usually played between opponents, sometimes from the neighbouring village. Whips, shields, masks, sticks and colourful costumes -- the performance is bursting with energy.
I would love to watch more cultural shows and performances. What would you recommend from Indonesia ?
This post was first published here.