Saturday, September 3, 2011

topeng pajegan

topeng pajegan,
calling the spirit of each mask
to enter his body

An odalan for a new house has been going on for a week. Made has me sit in a chair in a corner above the gamelan orchestra in a pit. A topeng pajegan, a one-man mask dance, is part of the ceremony for the new home. A man in an elaborate, red, mirrored costume makes offerings on the bale. Then he puts on several layers of false hair and a mask and starts dancing, with stylized hand, feet and head movements, to the metallic music of the gamelan instruments. Pak Win explains that the dancer is enacting a story, changing masks to represent various characters. The story, Empu Tapa Wengkeng, is about a priest and his servant and involves a sacrifice. The first character is Topèng Keras Dadeling Mani, an aristocrat. The second character is Topèng Tua, the old man, who reminisces about his youth. Next is Sage Tapa Wèngkèng, the Brahman priest. The fourth is Kelik, the old servant of the priest. And the last to appear is Sidha Karya, a comic character, who breaks the conventional storytelling with gossip and other antics to get a laugh. When the dancer puts on this mask, he starts talking to me. "Where you from?" "America." "You like Bali?" I shake my head yes. "Enchanting?" Yes. Then he approaches me, hand extended as if to shake hands. I put out my hand and each time he withdraws his before we touch, to much laughter. Then he makes a sudden lunge at the children behind me, who run away terrified. He picks an imaginary louse from his armpit, pulls hairs out of his white wig, staggers against a tree, all to laughter. In between mask changes, he mops his face, drinks water. At the end, he makes more banten offerings. Even though this masked dance seems like pure entertainment, Pak Win explains that all Balinese dances and music are performed as an offering to the gods, in this case, to bless and protect the new home. He says that the dancer uses fire to summon the spirit of the mask, which then enters the body of the dancer so that the dancer becomes the character being portrayed.

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