The Barong and Keris dance is one of the island’s most iconic dance-dramas, on par with the Legong and Kecak. Those with a keen interest in arts and culture will appreciate the performances the most, with daily shows scheduled at various stages throughout the island’s main tourism areas – the most popular being at Batubulan in Gianyar, and the Denpasar suburbs. Shows are locally managed locally; dances performed by villagers, and live gamelan orchestra accompanies the full length of the show.
The 12th century classical tale of good versus evil, Calon Arang, serves as the backdrop for the Barong and Keris dance. The Barong, a benevolent spirit in beast form must protect a kingdom against the vengeful wrath of the widow and witch queen, Rangda. Two male dancers work out the movements of the heavily ornate Barong costume, much in resemblance of the Chinese lion dance, while supporting dancers portray monkeys, priests and village men.
Pamphlets containing synopses are handed out at the ticket booths prior to the start of the show. Otherwise, it can be difficult to follow the story as the scenes unfold, due to the lack of narration. Normally, vibrant gamelan overtures begin as the audience is seated, then the drama unfolds, with dancing monkeys entering the stage, playfully teasing around the orderly and peaceful forest, and with the Barong that later enters the scene.
This peace is disturbed by troublemakers who turn out to be disciples of Rangda, and a scuffle ensues. Turns out that Rangda has set out to spread her reign of black magic by recruiting more followers, who turn into malevolent beings themselves. Even palace guards submit to her black magic. The Barong tries to defend the kingdom and faces off with Rangda, who brandishes her main weapon: a magical white cloth that casts malevolent spells with each swoosh.
The climactic scene has the palace guards in trance, turning on themselves by screaming and stabbing their chests fiercely with their keris daggers, but without harm due to the black magic. Barong comes to the rescue, lifting the spell off all those inflicted, and a priest comes around sprinkling holy water to fully revive the kingdom as the famine subsides, and Rangda is defeated. There are varying versions of scenes among each stage performances.
Shows last between 45 minutes and an hour, and the end of the show features photo taking onstage with the performing cast in their full costumes, as well as with the gamelan orchestra. Dances show once daily, usually starting in the morning, between 09:30 and 10:30. Tickets are between IDR 80,000 and 100,000 (USD 6 and 8) per person. Due to the keris self-stabbing scenes, and sometimes a bit of naughty ‘Balinese humour’ innuendo by the monkeys, we wouldn’t recommend it for kids.