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  • Balinese Dance, Drama and Music: A Guide to the Performing Arts of Bali
  • Bulantrisna Djelantik-Soejoto
Balinese Dance, Drama and Music: A Guide to the Performing Arts of Bali. By I Wayan Dibia and Rucina Ballinger, with illustrations by Barbara Anello. Singapore: Periplus, 2004. Hardcover $35.00.

Dance and Drama in Bali by Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete, published in 1938, has long been the standard reference on Balinese performance, only now comes another work which looks at the interlinked arts of music, dance, and theatre. The book tries to describe the state of performing arts in Bali. This book is the result of collaboration between I Wayan Dibia, the gifted Balinese dancer, musician, and choreographer, and Rucina Ballinger, the American educator and lecturer on Balinese culture, who has lived on the island for two decades. Barbara Anello, an American artist and photographer, has prepared the delightful watercolor paintings and two hundred beautiful photos that portray major dancers and musicians of the present. The book is further enhanced with a summary of a hundred years of Balinese dance, theater, and music; a resource guide; a bibliography; and a discography. This book can be regarded as a complementary extension to the exellent book Balinese Dance in Transition: Kaja and Kelod, by I Made Bandem and Frits de Boer (1995 [1981]), which is not as comprehensive but does have some related material.

Trying to summarize as many aspects of performing arts as possible, the book starts with background information on the Balinese religion, cultural values, beliefs, and protocols. There is a whole section on the seen (sekala) and the unseen (niskala) worlds, which are equally important to the Balinese. Such important information provides a succinct introduction to the cultural and philosophical ideas that frame Balinese performing arts. After covering the traditional as well as contemporary dance education, dance movements, makeup, and costuming, the book describes gamelan music, sacred and ancient ensembles, ceremonial and marching gamelans, and other types of Balinese music. One section that I found particularly innovative and worthy of documentation was "Women in Nontraditional Roles," which shows the developing role of women artists who are now given more artistic credibility. In sum, this is an important book packed with accurate information, giving clear insights into Balinese arts of the past and present and written in an accessible manner. Chapters need not be read sequentially, and those who are traveling as tourists can easily flip open to a genre to enhance their understanding of [End Page 361] the form encountered. But advanced readers will also be able to learn from it as well because it shares current research and debates about the arts in compact ways.

It is amazing how much material is covered in this one book, which covers a vast array of information. Nonetheless, this choice to make chapters self-standing may have caused difficulties in systematic organization; for instance, after we read about children's gamelan and dance groups, the stories in Balinese theater, and the shadow puppet theater, it seems we are taken back again in a section called "Dance and Drama: An Introduction." Readers learn of the sacred and ceremonial forms, the legong (palace female dance) and kebyar (dance to a twentieth-century gamelan of this name) forms, the newer dances of the 1940s and 1960s, the social-choral forms, the dance drama genre developed in the l960s, and very contemporary forms.

Every article is well written and fits beautifully into this resource book on Balinese performing arts at present. It is a guide to this rich, vast, and complex subject. It is a pity that there is no index to assist the reader in looking up a topic. The work is fine, aside from some minor mistakes; for example, on page 97 instead of "Putri Manis" (refined female) it should read "Mantri Manis" (refined male). Still, this book is very engaging from the beginning until the end. The layout, photos, and beautiful paintings make it visually a stunning book.

As a Balinese dancer since childhood, I am extremely happy to see this book, which I will cherish and refer to it repeatedly. I highly recommend it to everyone looking for a deeper...


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pp. 361-362
Launched on MUSE
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