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Reviewed by:
  • Dewi: Portrait of a Balinese Dancer
  • Kathy Foley
Dewi: Portrait of a Balinese Dancer. Produced and directed by Kevin Bird. Written by Kadek Dewi Aryani, Peter Heckmann, Kevin Bird, and Kimo Perry. Koloa, HI: Bird Productions, 2005. DVD $29.99.

This ethnographic videotape by Kevin Bird includes the personal story of a young Balinese Dancer (Episode 1: “Dragonfly,” 25:35 minutes) and the depiction of a temple festival Karya Agung Dhirga Yusa Buhmi celebrated every fifty years over a three-week period (Episode 2: “Temple,” 41:20), as well as a short sequence of extras that have music video attractions. Though the quality of camera work and sound is high and the “Temple” could be useful in teaching on Balinese theatre, the “Dragonfly” episode is problematical in its use of pop culture notions of Bali and MTV filming choices.

The piece on the temple festival, which is largely ethnographic in nature, would probably be of most use in a classroom context. It gives a quick explanation of Balinese religion and shows the performing arts inset in the context of the festival with scenes of Pura Agung Besakih, the main temple of the island, and Pura Goa Lawah (popularly known as the Bat Temple). We see short pieces of gamelan, gambuh, prembon (comic performance with I Wayan Tangsi), and pendet and the use of Rangda and Barong masks in the festival. Ideas of sacred (wali), semisacred (bebali), and entertainment (bali-balihan) performance are introduced as they are officially presented in discourse from the government and academy. Overall this is a useful, short overview of contemporary style performance in temple festival context. No dances are shown in entirely, diminishing the value for teaching theatre and dance, but the quality [End Page 195] of performance is generally high, the sunlight is not overpowering (a problem in much filming in Bali), and the sound quality good.

The portrait of the artist Dewi is more problematical, both for what it includes and for what it leaves out. The film starts with images of young girls in the fields and presents a stereotypical view linking child, woman, nature, and Bali. There are mysterious sections in which we see young girls or women bathing, which hearken back to voyeurism of the early twentieth-century National Geographics. The portrayal of Dewi and Bali as at one with both nature and religion is not necessarily completely “wrong” but far too simplistic for the reality of contemporary Balinese ecopolitics (which are not addressed). We move from very good dancing (seen only in short cuts) to scenes filmed in a pop video style in which we seem to be looking less at the dance than the beautiful and enticing female dancers.

Of course Dewi is an aspiring young pop singer, but the conventions of MTV and touristic selling of the island get the viewer who is seeking ethnography thinking this is about the marketing of a pop star. We get a picture of the artist as a young village dancer, then she goes to the arts school, and then performs around the world. Dewi is an STSI graduate who doubles as a model and pop singer and international fusion artist (in Robert Wilson’s I La Galigo and with modern German dance groups). Teachers of theatre would like to see more of this diverse international experience included and less of women in wet sarongs (with pop music playing). This video might make more sense if it portrayed the artist in the enlarged frame she seeks to inhabit (which would move beyond the romance of Bali into her own participation in popular culture and world consumption and international portrayals of Indonesian and Balinese arts).

Thematically this video reminds me of Larry Reed’s Shadowmaster, available from ShadowLight Theatre, which was a film about an artistic family in Bali (the children of Dalang Rajeg) and which takes a young Balinese girl dancer (playing herself ) as its heroine to discuss aspects and the purpose of the arts. This film had a similar element of fictionalization with other young dancers portraying the central figure as a younger person. But Reed’s work, although presented as a fiction film, was more realistic as it...


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