FRIDAY, JUNE 8
Joan and I scurry around this morning: money exchange, drop off film at the 30-minute photo lab conveniently located across the street from Puri Saraswati, buy some more sarongs and sashes (I can't believe I'm getting so many, but they're just so gorgeous), then pick up prints and retire to our veranda to enjoy them. But all too soon, it's time to put away our purchases and get over to Puri Saran for a morning Balinese dance lesson.
First Don leads us in a toning and meditation to gather and focus our energies. Next he introduces Mr. Swastika, a very slender Balinese resident master musician of Puri Saran. Mr. Swastika in turn introduces us to two lady dancers. One will teach the female dance forms, the other the male forms and movements. We divide into two groups. The ones learning the female movements stay with their teacher on the porch of the Prince's residence building. The other, smaller group, including all the men and some of the women, moves to an adjacent pavilion.
I choose to be archivist, as I can't dance and shoot photos, too. I spend much time trying to find just the right vantage points from which to capture the "perfect" shots. The two Balinese dancers put the neophytes through some simple movements: first hand and arm movements, then what to do with the feet, head and body, then try to coordinate these diverse movements into a gracefully flowing rhythmic wholeness. Much laughter and groaning. But finally, they "get their act together." Sort of.
We break for lunch, shopping, napping, whatever. I hear much groaning as people's previously under-used muscles make themselves known from the morning workout. I also run to the photo lab with more film to be developed.
In the afternoon, we gather again at Puri Saran. Again I choose to roam with the camera over squatting down at one of the instruments--hard on the knees! We learn that the word "gamelan" means "to hammer" and also means a whole "orchestra," and that each type of gamelan instrument has a specific name. Of the metallophones (xylophone-like instruments) are the sopranos which carry the melody, the altos, tenors and basses! Then there are collections of big gongs and kettle gongs, and finally, the drums.
Patiently, Mr. Swastika explains the striking and damping movements used when playing the metallophones. He sets up an 8-beat, 2-note rhythm. Once the budding musicians get that going properly, he instructs one person on the kettle gong to establish the tempo. Then he shows another person the specific rhythm for the cymbals. Another Balinese musician instructs Katrina at the three large hanging gongs. Two little Balinese boys hang around, watching. When the Balinese musician moves away, the two boys take over, telling Katrina when to bong each gong! These kids, having grown up hearing these melodies and rhythms all their lives, have it down pat.
Now, amid all this cacophony, Mr. Swastika tackles teaching the most difficult job--the complicated rhythm for the two drums. Winnie and Lynne bravely try to get it right. Now many Balinese hotel staff members and children are hanging around, watching and laughing. A celebration of initiation for budding musicians.
HOW TO PLAY A METALLOPHONE
Setting camera aside, finally I try one of the metallophones as Joan shows me what to do. After five minutes or so of disciplining my left hand to remember to damp note number 6, I get it together. After each bar is struck with the mallet and before the mallet strikes the next bar, the left hand must damp the bar just struck. So it's strike, damp, strike, damp and so on. But if one note/bar to be struck is to the left of the one just struck, then the player has to cross hands over each other without getting tangled up.
Tiring of the metallophone, I bong the gongs a bit. These large gongs have such a deep rich tone and overtone series that I feel them right through to the core of my being. These vibrations send me to sonic heaven! Winnie and Lynne have given up on the drums and talk with Mr. Saraswati. Lynne wants to buy a drum. Gradually the observers drift away. Our players also drift away. Our "concert" peters out.
KECAK & KRIS
In the evening we board our buses to attend a trance dance in a neighboring village. A chorus of many men sit in concentric circles around the relatively few dancers who play the main characters. I find the male chorus more entrancing than the dancers. The men's bodies sway to the rhythms of the music. Sometimes synchronized in rhythmic glow, sometimes waving in individual dissonant eddies, their bodies visually choreograph the harmonies and dissonances of the musical emotions.
At one side of the inner circle sits a very bald, very rotund, very happy, very vociferous lead singer. Periodically he half rises to fling vocal and gestural challenges. Another much thinner, much less jolly man half-way around this circle jabber-tones and gestures a response. Then the rest of the chorus chimes in with their two-rupiahs' worth.
The last act introduces a young man in trance, a bare-footed fire dancer! An assistant builds a smoky bonfire of coconut husks and other dried materials on the cement floor. After the flames subside, the assistant spreads out the coals over a large area of the floor. The fire dancer begins his dance around and around the fire. As he jumps and kick-steps to a climax, he suddenly rushes through the coals, kicking and scattering them with his bare feet. Sparks fly off, causing people closest in the audience to agitate away from the hot debris. The assistant returns to sweep the coals back towards the center.
The dancer and assistant repeat this ritual quite a few times. And then, suddenly, the dance ends. Three men hasten to the dancer's side and gently lower him to the floor to bring him out of trance. The fire assistant pours water on the coals, causing the whole room to fill with acrid smoke.
The whole audience stampedes to get out of the room and into the fresh night air, away from the stifling atmosphere. Outside, mass confusion reigns, as people can't identify which minivans they had come in. Finally, after much shouting from driver to driver, we board and arrive safely in Ubud. This outer confusion, I think, represents the Beta state of the outer world, compared to the more harmonious state of the dance performance.
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