Friday, September 14, 2007

Beyond The Frame: Kecak Dance

Image Copyright © Tewfic El-Sawy -All Rights Reserved

Kecak or Ketchak is a dance usually performed at night, surrounding a bonfire. Tourists generally refer to it as The Monkey Dance. There can literally be upwards of a hundred or more bare chested men, sitting down on the ground surrounding the bonfire, led by a priest in the middle. The only music to accompany them are the beats of their palms hitting their bodies, or their claps, rhythmically accompanied by shouting and chanting.

I've seen it performed at the spectacular temple of Ulluwatu overlooking the sea, and at Pura Dalem in Ubud. The above photograph was made at the latter temple, and I found that the Ubud performance was more authentic that the the one in Ulluwatu.

This photograph reminds me of an artist's rendition of Hell...The dance was very atmospheric with the bonfire lighting the dancers' moves, and their rhythmic sounds suddenly rising to crescendos. Photographing the Kecak dance at the Pura Dalem was not easy with the stage lights and bonfire in the scene, and one has to find an appropriate angle.

The story behind Kecak is taken from the Hindu epic Ramayana, and it recounts the tale of Prince Rama who rescues Princess Sita, kidnapped by the evil King of Lanka.

Despite it being based on the Ramayan epic, Kecak is a modern creation (ca 1930) by Wayan Limbak and the German painter Walter Spies to create the dance movements and themes in the traditional sanghyang exorcism ritual and portions of the Ramayana.

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