In Bali, the cosmic dance of gods and men

Sebatu's Jaya Semara Wati troupe at the Pura puseh temple in Apuh, Bali, Indonesia, December 18, 2022.

Three small white dots. In a triangle for the girls, at the corner of the eyes; scattered in the middle and on each side of the forehead for boys. To invoke the gods so that the spirit of the character they are going to dance invites itself into them, so that the taksu, this “sacred fire” – which everyone has but few know how to light – which brings together musical mastery and bodily technique, physical and spiritual expressiveness, and becomes the incarnation of the divine. This Sunday, December 18, 2022, the musicians and young dancers of the Jaya Semara Wati troupe, from the village of Sebatu (Indonesia), chose the small town of Apuh and its “temple of origins” (Pura puseh) for the general rehearsal of the show they are presenting in France in mid-March, from Voiron (Isère) to Cannes (Alpes-Maritimes), then from Bordeaux to Dijon, via the Philharmonie de Paris.

The stone statues of the deities received offerings of cut flowers, rice, baskets woven with banana leaves, lustral water and incense, assuring the artists of the benevolence of the founders of the village. For the sky, whose showers are dreaded in this rainy season, a glance at the weather forecast on the mobile phone is reassuring.

The afternoon draws to a close. Under the big wantilan, this open pavilion topped with a triple roof, preparations are well underway. The dancers make up themselves, picking the colors from a large metal box. Not far away, a quartet repeats the “pas de quatre” of the Jauks, these fauns guardians of the forest who will later oppose the King of Lasem who has come to confront the brother of Princess Rangkesari, whom he has kidnapped and raped.

The “Balinese Karajan”

As always in Bali, the community – in this case the family of the great I Nyoman Jaya, gifted to whom fell the nickname “Balinese Karajan” – discovered by ethnologist and musicologist Jacques Brunet in 1969, while the dancer was only 20 years old, took care of everything. Either, set up on trestles, a row of dishes with tempting aromas, such as this shredded chicken with spices, this grilled fish or the famous babi guling, crispy-skinned piglet barbecue, not to mention different kinds of rice. A queue forms while the dancers, corseted in their brightly colored costumes, still adjust their knotted turbans and golden tiaras adorned with frangipani flowers.

I Nyoman Jaya (74), whose troupe performed regularly in Europe (five times between 1972 and 1986, then in 1992 with the unforgettable Bali Ballets at the Opéra Garnier, in 2000 at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, finally, in Paris, in 2008 Salle Pleyel and in 2012 at the Palais de Chaillot), likes to tell the youngest the story of the Barong (mythological monster) which burned in Quimper (Finistère), in 1984: the dried palm fibers which covered the body of the “god” had ignited on contact with a torch. An event to which the Tarasque, still slumped on her wooden rack, seems to oppose a sleepy denial.

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