“Cak cak cak”. On and on goes the chant from half-naked men sitting in a circle around a fire. They are in a trance, “cak cak cak”. Inebriated perhaps? No. Got a little hash-hish in their system? Wrong again. This is the most stunning of all Balinese dances. Brace yourselves as you are about to witness the dramatic and mesmerising Kecak and Fire Dance.
Kecak Dance is always performed before sunset and with the Uluwatu overlooking the Indian Ocean, the gods themselves could not have chosen a more apropos venue. There is no other source of light aside from the lone fire in the middle of the circle. It casts shadows on the faces of the men as they chant.
The men wearing checkered clothes from their waist down repeat the cacophonous sound, “cak cak”, while waving their hands back and forth as each scene unfolds. The dance tells the story of Ramayana, how Prince Rama was able to rescue the Princess Sita, with the help of monkey-like Vanaran, from the evil grip of Hanuman, someone who does not seem to take rejection very well.
I am transported back in time as I watch each act, never mind the suspect smart phones strategically placed ready to start flashing away at any minute. Even these abhorrent things will not disturb me from my kecak stupor.
Unlike other Balinese dances, Kecak is not performed with the accompaniment of the gamelan, the Balinese equivalent of an orchestra. The sole sound you will hear during the entire performance is the chanting of the men.
The dancers, with their vibrant costumes, move gracefully, tilting their head from one side to another, with the distinct movement of the eyes and neck; something I have tried to copy when I was younger and failed miserably doing so. I looked like somebody having a seizure! The pursuit was pointless and I have gladly abandoned it, waiting for the day when I would finally witness the graceful dancers with my own eyes.
As the sun sets dramatically in the horizon, the dancers continue with their story. Hanuman fights Ravana to rescue Sita and return her to Rama. As epic and as old as it might seem, the dance was actually created by Walter Spies, a German musician and painter. He was enchanted by the ritual while living in Bali and adapted it as a drama based on the Hindu Ramayana.
If culture is what you are looking for, a break from the ubiquitous temples and beaches in Bali; the Kecak and Fire Dance is absolutely something you must witness. Beautiful, enchanting, elegant; I run out of words just trying to describe it. It is simply breathtaking and one of the most remarkable dances I have ever seen. “Cak,cak cak”.
Get a peek of the dance, check the video.