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    What is Gambuh? Part II

    Gambuh is Bali’s oldest dance drama that developed in the 15th century in the Klungkung kingdom of Gelgel. The stories feature blue bloods and their servants, and Gambuh was obviously used as a tool by the palaces to demonstrate their power and importance. The dramas included a large cast of dancers – around 22 – who were originally all-male, playing both male and female roles.

    The ancient drama is based almost entirely on the tales of Prince Panji, which were modified from the palm leaf scripture called Malat. The central theme of the Panji stories is ‘love’ – his attachment for his wife, her disappearance and his subsequent journeys hunting for his soul mate.

    Gambuh dance plays a central role in the development of Balinese dance, as it influenced many subsequent dance forms, notably legong and masked dances. You can see numerous gestures that have been adopted from Gambuh; however, they have been modified to suit a quicker musical style, as well as the characters they represent.

    Gambuh dancers articulate in an ancient Balinese language called Kawi, which is characteristically shrill and nasally, yet at times guttural and gruff – depending on the character. Modern audiences do not understand Kawi; however, there are times in the drama when utterances by important characters are translated by their servants.

    Gambuh was originally accompanied by the flute orchestra with the same name; however, over time some palaces and villages also used a semara pagulingan court orchestra. The same pieces were played but presented in different arrangements – sometimes in different modes and with a different tuning system to suit the new media of bronze.

    Active Gambuh troupes in Bali are found in Batuan and Kedisan Gianyar; Pedungan, Denpasar; Jungsri, Padang Aji and Budakeling, Karangasem; Tumbak Bayuh, Badung; Apik Yeh, Tabanan; and Naga Sepeha and Anturan Buleleng.

    To see all-male casts, check out the troupes from Kedisan, and ones in Buleleng.

    A troupe from Batuan performs at Four Seasons in Jimbaran and Mekar Bhuana performs Gambuh with semara pagulingan accompaniment at Oberoi Hotel in Seminyak on the first Thursday of every month.

    © 2012 Mekar Bhuana

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