Don't leave Bali before you've seen at least one of local dances. And, if possible, not necesseraly one of this "shows" widely organized by the hotels. Try to go to the small villages where often all local men are involved in night art performances. In Ubud central Tourist Office has always a complete list of such events, and very often they also provide the transport.
Personally I went to Jujjungan village, about 15 km from Ubud, to see Kecak dance, called also a "Monkey Dance". The dance is based on ancient trance rituals, combined with a storyline from Ramayana epic. Kecak gets its name from the sound of the performers canting "cak, cak, cak", which is reminiscent of chattering monkeys. This chanting fills role of an orchestra, simulating the staccato rythms of the gamelan. The dance consist of eleven scenes about opposition of Prince Rama's Kingdom called Ayodya with the kingdom of Alengka, ruled by the wicked giant, Rahwana.
Ticket, including transport, cost 50 000 Rps. All the benefits were for refurbishment of the village's temple.
First, there is no musical accompaniment. The gamelan is not there. Rhythm is provided by a chanting 'monkey' chorus. The polyrhythmic sound of the chanting provides the name,
The story line for the Kecak is taken from the Ramayana.
Prince Rama goes hunting for a golden deer and his beautiful wife is kidnapped by the evil Rawana.
Story is secondary in this performance, though. If you want to see the story of the Ramayana, you should see a Ramayana performance.
The Kecak is a triumph of style and mood, rather than story. Watch the faces of audience members. More than any other Balinese dance, the Kecak turns every viewer into a child, wide-eyed and transfixed.
This is a traditional Balinese dance where the dancers are accompanied by a choir of 100 men rather than the gamalen orchestra. It was spectacular performed at night.
We saw this at the Pura Dalem in Ubud. Tickets can be organised through your hotel or bought on the night. Tickets were only 50,000 rupiah each. Good value for a great nights entertainment.
There are several cultural performances in Bali itself and the most watched I guess should be the Kecak Dance, otherwise known as Monkey Dance.
It is performed by a circle of 100 or more performers wearing checked cloth around their waists, percussively chanting "cak", and throwing up their arms, depicts a battle from the Ramayana where monkeys help Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana.
It's interesting how the different chants can make such music.
We have been in Ubud several times and each time attended a dance performance if possible. Most days of the week there is a performance in the evening, each day different and at a different venue. Tickets may be obtained at the venue, or from street sellers. As long as the latter offer you a ticket with program for the price printed on it, you can trust its veracity.
Always come early, to get a good seat for taking pictures. The rule is that one cannot come in after the program has started, but that rule is not enforced.
We saw the program “Kecak and Fire Dance” by group “Trena Jenggala” in December 2009. At the time it was performed every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday at 07:00pm. Admission Rp 75,000.
The program consisted of three separate performances. Due to the threat of rain shortly before the start, stage and audience were moved from the open air to a pendopo (roofed space with open sides). Oil lamps illuminated the whole performance.
1. The Kecak dance is a Balinese version of the Ramayana epos, a ballet of which can be witnessed at Prambanan. There is no orchestra, the accompaniment being made by male voices a.o. singing 'kecak-kecak-kecak....'. In this version the son of the evil king Rahwana shoots a magic arrow which encircles Rama and Laksamana; the snake is represented by the singers lying down in a circle. The good brothers are rescued by the bird Garuda who eats the snake.
2. The Sanghyang Dedari dance features two virgin dancers who are entranced by a divine spirit entering them. Their eyes are closed during the whole dance, at the end of which they fall to the ground and are brought out of trance by a priest.
3. In Sanghyang Jaran or Fire dance a male dancer disguised as a horse dances around a fire and even on the glowing coals. This was quite spectacular finale of the evening; spectators sitting in front retreated from the heat of the fire.
For more photos see travelogue Kecak and Fire Dance.
Venue: Pura Kloncing, also referred to as Padangtegal Stage. The venue is located on Hanoman street; from the market and Royal Palace about 200 m east, then the same distance south along Hanoman street.