The Women’s Cak: un-Liberated?

My community in Ubud (Banjar Ubud Tengah) has been after me for a more than a month now to help them out with pictures and publicity for their all new Women’s Kecak performance. Last week they performed at the Denpasar Art Centre for the Bali Art Festival and are very excited. Unfortunately up till now I haven’t been able to free up a wednesday evening, so last night I put off everything else and went to Pura Batukaru (across from me on Suweta) to check it out. Lots of old friends, some of them performers others their wives who were performing. The men busied themselves with tickets etc. I ran into Rucina Ballinger again, who is a serious hand at Balinese performing arts and cultures, having made a lot of breakthrough performances herself. Along with a small handful of western performers who have immersed themselves in to the world of Balinese performing arts over the last two or three decades, she and the likes of Cristina Formaggia are passionate about it all. Though the performance is billed as “Bali’s first women’s kecak”. Rucina was actually part of the real first women’s kecak a couple of years ago. dsc_1273.jpg —-The Cak starts, and it is a fantastic setting under the old banyan in front of the steps to the entrance of the inner courtyard. The choreography is a tad saccharine but the ladies make a pretty good show of it considering this only their fourth performance, and most of them aren’t professionals by any means. It was a bit ironic to see that the by-now-traditional appearance of a “baddie” who dominates the chant for part of the inset story is played by a biggish man. In any case I definitely recommend the show, especially if they work on a bit of “editing”. The only thing that spoilt the evening a bit was the appearance, at the end of the women’s cak, of a “Sanghyang Jaran” or fire trance. A stunned Rucina caught on at first jingle of the bells and moaned: “Oh no, why do they have to do that? This is a Srikandi thing (a female warrior of legend)!” and promptly stood up and left in protest.dsc_1481.jpgAfter the performance is over I bring it up quietly with some of the organizers. An old friend ruefully tells me that they are not that comfortable about it either but it seems to be a big selling point. So much so that if tourists find out that there is no trance they balk: “No fire? No ticket thank you…” Hmm, should tell my sociologist brother-in-law about this! A classic (and sadly oft repeated) scenario. Not to mention my opportunistic taking dramatic pictures…

2 Responses to “The Women’s Cak: un-Liberated?”

  1. Bu Ru

    Actually, I was in the SECOND women’s kecak with Luh Luwih. We performed at the PKB/Bali Arts Festival in 2006. The first women’s kecak was done by the PKK women of Mas village.
    I felt the women did a fine job (they are not hand picked musicians, but the Women’s Auxilliary Group of Banjar Ubud Tengah) but the end was messy and then when it segued into the fake Sanghyang Jaran, I was outta there. The “fire dance” is not indigenous to Ubud (it was originally done in the neighboring village of Bona) but has been appropriated by many groups in Ubud. As Rio told me an hour after the show when he rang me to chastise me for sulking, the organizers told him “no fire, no tourists buy tickets”. A sad state of affairs since the kecak itself is such a powerful performance on its own when done well. But let’s support the women of Br Tengah Ubud in their barrier breaking Kecak! Bu Ru (rucina)

  2. Rio

    Bu Ru,

    Thanks for the correction and also your explanation of what you felt was wrong with the situation. I have to say that I do agree with you, the Sanghyang Jaran not only being fake but really so “addendum” like that it felt embarassingly forced. However as you know I can’t tell my banjar what to do, all I can do is suggest.


    Rio ( I Belog to the faithful)


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