12 November 2009

Bali Fire Show

See the power go out. See the night blanket Bali. And this is how I experienced my first traditional Balinese fire show. The fire show is part storytelling, part performance piece, part musical exhibition and part Hindu ritual. It tells the ancient Sanskrit epic of the Ramayana through dance and the unique interplay between a large chorus of men and the costumed character players. A group of men, about fifty in number, surround a ceremonial fire statue and begin the spinning of yarns. They are the background, the soundtrack, the voice and the world in which the story is played out.

The extended length of the show and the continuous rhythm of the dynamic chorus - felt through the soles of your feet and the pulsing of your ears - submerges the audience in the experience. And so, when the chorus carries the costumed warriors through the airborn swordplay routine, you are caught up in the battle and the integral role of the chorus. In this aspect it occurs to me that a talisman of this kind can only survive through generations. It cannot simply be taught. If you are a member of the chorus, your father and his father's father were members of the chorus too. It is inherent in every movement. In the effortless flow with which the men and women of the community tell the story. Together. This story and this performance is their birthright. And it is beautiful.


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