Gambuh (Luh De Suriyani, 2012)

Reviving Gambuh in Nusa Penida

Loaded with fiery spirit and high confidence, nine middle-aged Gambuh actors and dancers from Nusa Penida put on a display of their island's traditional dance on an open stage at the ongoing Bali Arts Festival (PKB) last week in Denpasar for the first time.

The dancers, all in their 50s, have been performing their reconstructed Nusa Penida Gambuh dance-drama during religious ceremonies at temples for dozens of years.

The island of Nusa Penida is known for being the home to many sacred temples, which is why whenever religious holidays are celebrated, many Hindu Balinese from the main island cross over to Nusa Penida to pray.

The Gambuh dance is a wali dance and considered sacred, and has existed since the prehistoric era of Hindu Bali. Gambuh is the oldest form of traditional dance-drama on the island.

"This is the revival of our artistic heritage. Nusa Penida is an island loaded with various sacred arts. Unfortunately, these arts have never developed," said I Wayan Sukerta, caretaker (bendesa desa) of the Karang traditional village where Nusa Penida's Gambuh group originates.

The Gambuh dance-drama story performed by the Nusa Penida dancers was about a nobleman, Raden Panji Misepati, the king of Deha. It was told that the Deha kingdom had a rivalry with the Ketiban kingdom, whose wicked king, Prabu Uriadana, wanted to kill Raden Panji and expand his territory to Deha. The wise and kindhearted Panji was meditating on isolated Indrakila Mountain when Uriadana attempted his plan. A war between the two kingdoms ensued, and in the end it was won by the good King Panji.

Some funny dialogue in Balinese Nusa Penida accents occurred among the two kings' subordinates, causing laughter among the audience that flocked to watch the performance, despite the scorching sun.

"Today is very hot indeed. However, I'm pleased [with the performance]," said one of the senior dancers, I Made Garis, who played the role of King Raden Panji Misepati.

Bathed in sweat after more than one hour of performing, the senior dancer, who has lost most of his teeth, was able to dance, act and sing with great composure, despite being clad in the heavy Gambuh dance costume.

"I believe this is the only Gambuh dance group in Nusa Penida," said I Dewa Ketut Wicaksana of the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) in Denpasar. Wicaksana is the leader of the reconstruction efforts of Sekaa Gambuh Manca Gita Lestari in Karang, Nusa Penida.

Wicaksana said the Gambuh dance-drama of Nusa Penida is unique compared to other versions of Gambuh. "In terms of dance movements, the Gambuh of Nusa Penida does not have nyledet or the eye movements, but only head movements like nodding," said Wicaksana, adding that Nusa Penida's Gambuh also has different costumes, stories and percussion.

All the Gambuh performers, which includes dancers, actors and musicians, wear Nusa Penida's traditional woven cloth, cepuk, which nowadays is getting harder to find due to the limited availability of natural dyes.

Karang village caretaker Sukerta said Nusa Penida is the home of Gambuh and other traditional wali dances, including the Sanghyang dance. Thus, he hopes that the government and culture experts continue to support the islanders in reconstructing this almost extinct tradition. "A lot of the dance equipment and dance costumes are worn out. So we need support to reconstruct them to preserve the dances."

Over the past few years, the PKB has been providing stages for a number of reconstructed Gambuh performances, as well as the Joged Pingit from Sukawati, Gianyar regency, held on Tuesday, and the Baris Wayang dance to be held on June 27.


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