Balinese Culture: Legong Kraton, Dance of the Heavenly Nymph
In Bali, dance and religion are synonymous; dance is the principle art form and many of the dances and legends upon which they are based originate from Javanese culture. The dance movements are accentuated with continues flowing gestures. One of the most notable are the performers eye movements; the eyes also dance. A dance that is often performed by beginners, yet requires hours of training is the Kraton. The dancers are called Legong, meaning ‘dance of the heavenly nymphs’
Any visitor to the island of Bali would surely not leave without seeing a performance of the Legong Kraton. This traditional dance, which translates as ‘from the palace‘, is the most popular of Balinese court dances. The dance is performed by three girls. The age of the girls can be as young as five, with the oldest fourteen. Traditionally only the prettiest, most talented and agile girls are chosen. Being chosen to be a Legong is a highly sought and prized position in Balinese culture, as the girls will represent their community. The training is extremely rigorous and requires strength, flexibility and gracefulness; it is said that the most talented performers become one with their characters, as they mimic the movements. The dance in itself is also perceived as the essence of femininity and cultural refinement.
Image credit, wikipedia.org.
The Legong Kraton was created in the eighteenth century for Sukawati principality. The original dance had a specific narrative and a storyteller would always accompany the performance. But this feature has been phased out over the years, leaving the audience to interpret the plot through the gamelan music and the dancers abstract movements.
The three characters in the performance are; the condong ( court attendant) and two identically dressed royal people. The story is derived from a 12th century legend from East Java. The maiden Rangkesari is lost in the forest when she is kidnapped by evil King Lasem. When the maidens brother hears of this he threatens to wage war against the king unless the maiden is released. But the king refuses. The king is then visited by a crow that warns him of his impending death; this becomes reality during the battle.
At the beginning of the dance the condong appears in a solo performance that depicts the unimpeded maiden in the forest. The two identical legongs then enter the dance and pantomime the story, representing multiple characters. Meanwhile the condong leaves the stage and later reappears as the crow. In the final act the three dancers dance together in unison.
As you will see in the video, the Legong Kraton is far more than just a dance. It is a divine and spiritual expression of the rich history and beautiful culture of the Balinese people.
All images from commons.wikimedia and flickr.com. If you liked this you might also like the following aticles