Woke up this morning and Ginger simply looked different. It wasn’t just me, I checked with Ian too. She looks older somehow and, of course to us, prettier. Suddenly, she isn’t almost two (on the 30th), she IS two. We have conversations with her, she makes jokes about her tummy hopping like a kangaroo when she has the hiccups and she looks, well– older— more like a kid and less like a baby. For both of us, our reaction to this development is a mixture of pleasure and pain, pride and nostalgia. Is it ever any other way with parenting?
Overall, this trip seems to have been an incredible influence on G. The Good Ol’ SD Zoo will never seem the same, now that she’s run with the monkeys and she watches Balinese dances with the same rapt face with which some kids watch TV. These dances have become a real favorite for her and when it gets dark and we are still out and about, she naturally assumes we’re headed for one. Balinese dance performances are hard to describe to someone who hasn’t seen them for themselves because one would naturally assume that a traditional dance performed for tourists in a foreign country would come off as artificial or recreated. But these dances are nothing of the sort. True, they are ancient rituals, telling age-old stories, most often from the Hindu Ramayana myth– a love story. But the people who dance are usually the local villagers taking part in the everyday happenings of their own neighborhood temple. Being a part of the dancing is something that most children learn to do as they are raised under their temple’s wing (as most all are) and it just so happens that Bali has a lot of tourists who are also interested being there to see them do it. There are also specialized dance troupes who perform in places of honor like the ARMA museum or the Ubud Palace. But more often than not, the local temple’s Kecak dance is outstandingly performed by the guys who helped you get your luggage to your room and the precious little girls who played with your daughter on the beach that day.
Ginger’s favorite dance to see is the Kecak (ke-chack), or fire dance. This dance re-enacts a scene from Ramayana in which the Princess Sita is stolen from Prince Rama by a Barong (demon) and is rescued with the help of the Garuda bird and the white monkey, Hanoman (this, incidentally, is what we’ve been calling G lately cause she’s so white and such a little monkey). Instead of music, there is a giant chorus of men chanting “chek chek chek chek” in complicated rhythms interspersed with occasional grunting. These men are in sarongs with no shirt and Ginger calls them the Naked Babies. The Naked Babies all sit around a floor chandelier of fire and at the end of the dance, Hanoman comes out and lights coconut husks on fire as well. Then he dances across the lit embers with bare feet, kicking them up into the front rows where European women generally shriek with fear but never seem to get burned and a good time is had by all. As I said, Ginger can sit or stand still for nearly the entire hour this dance takes with a riveted, television-zombie-like face. Amazing. She also really likes the Legong Dance because it has a lot of little girl dancers and she now has a book about a little girl who is learning to dance as she grows up in her Balinese village. These brightly painted women and girls are robed in pinks and greens with gold patterns and elaborate gold headdresses. It is enchanting to watch them dance with their whole bodies including their ultra-flexible fingers and shockingly expressive eyes. These dances are accompanied by a gamelan orchestra whose alternating rhythmic pinging sounds like the most soothingly coordinated set of chimes on the planet.
Now that I’ve descirbed this central part of Balinese life and of our life as well, while we are here, you are probably wondering why we haven’t shown pictures of this before. Well, the dance is a sacred thing and, like most acts here, is done as a tribute to the gods. However, there is something going on for us and the gods of photography because every single time we’ve gone to one of these dances something goes wrong and we are unable to shoot. Well, Ian took some 16mm film once, but no stills whatsoever. Either the battery has died, the memory is full or the camera was left behind through a comedy of errors. It used to be frustrating and embarassing that as professionally trained photographers we were failing so miserably at this basic task. I mean, the whole thing is set up for you right down to the lighting. But now, we just find it funny and decided to share it with you all as well. No more photo-shame for us, we are coming clean! And in that vein, we are now shamelessly presenting you with images of Balinese dances stolen from the internet with pride. We just can’t keep it from you any longer and we can only hope we haven’t angered the gods further with our brazeness…Enjoy!