Ubud: Art, Music, and Dance

Yesterday was a culture-filled extravaganza here in Ubud – what an amazing place this is. For a quite small town the number of art galleries, museums, and places to see and hear music, drama, and dance is incredible. Our plan was to visit the Neka Art Museum in the morning and so we headed out down the main drag towards Kedewatan Village. Of course, I could not pass by all the small galleries without investigating them. The first one, a large barn of a place, is called the Art Zoo, run by Symon, full of colourful expressionist paintings, sculptures, and mixed media works, including silk screens of the usual cast of pop culture figures (Marilyn Monroe, Mona Lisa, Einstein) and a pop-art take-off on that hellenistic favourite, the Barberini Faun.

Close by in another small gallery I chatted with Ngurah KK, a Balinese painter in the Young Artist style, whose works are featured in many art museums world-wide and on Unicef greeting cards.

We nipped into the Sika Gallery of Contemporary Art just across the way, a huge modern space containing many interesting paintings and objects by younger Indonesian artists, a space which we really enjoyed. We actually purchased two small oil paintings – small enough to fit into the ol’ suitcase – by I Made Aswino Aji from Bali and the Javanese Awan Yozeffani.

Carrying our red bag of paintings, we continued up the road to the Neka Art Museum, one of Bali’s most important venues for Indonesian art and art by international artists focussing on Bali.

This place has several pavilions of paintings and some sculpture, most depicting village life and the everyday rituals and mythology of Bali. Traditional Balinese painting, like Buddhist and Hindu art I’m familiar with, is highly detailed, colourful, and representational, sometimes in a deliberately naïve style.

Some of the contemporary Indonesian painting on view looked much like western painting from the 50s, some was reminiscent of German expressionism, and some more like Gauguin.

After immersing ourselves in art, we felt a powerful hunger coming on and staggered out of the Neka and into Naughty Nuri’s barbeque house just across the street, where we munched on BBQ’d chicken and pork, along with several other art lovers. Back at the ranch we plunged in the plunge pool and had a little lie down before emerging once again for a night-time dance performance at the Ubud Palace downtown. Since it was raining a bit, and we were late, we grabbed a taxi and got to the venue early, luckily, because we were able to get a front row seat for the Legong and Barong Dance.

I had never seen Balinese dance before and knew almost nothing about it so the performance was a delight.

Everything was new and unexpected. The colours of the costumes and makeup of the dancers and musicians were fabulous, and each time the scene changed and new characters emerged, I was enchanted.

Rather than one continuous story, the evening involved several different dramas. The Legong dance, a historical 13th century romance, features pre-pubescent girls; the Barong dance a lion-dog creature representative of good, manipulated by two actors, duelling with a monkey;

and the finale a story from the Mahabharata of two giants, Sunda and Upasunda, a beautiful goddess, her attendant nymphs, and two clown-like figures whose purpose was unknown to me.

The movements of the dancers, both women and men, are highly stylised, and include fascinating eye, head, and hand movements. While the womens’ movements are graceful and sensuous, the mens’ are more angular and sharp, meant to indicate strength and power.

The Barong was very humourous and reminded me of a sasquatch or abominable snowman-like figure, as well as our dog Brubin when he plays grass alligator. Accompanying the action was a gamelan orchestra and a male narrator who voiced all the parts, which must have been exhausting for him! This spectacular performance is highly recommended.

See more pictures here.