There were the requisite gold leaf and ornamentation fit for royalty, and the intricately carved wooden doors and stone structures were especially awe-inspiring. But I couldn't help feel a sense of harmony with nature as I walked through the grounds and among structures built with mud, stone, bamboo, teak, thatch roofing, livened up by a variety of foliage and plant life with frangipani scattered about. This was the stuff those glossy Balinese-inspired coffee table design books are made of. By the time we traced our steps back to the street the rehearsals had started and we lingered for a short while, enjoying a sneak peak into what was in store for us that night, though at another venue.
After a quick shower, we followed the path from our bungalow through a private back gate that opens up to the lotus ponds of the acclaimed Café Lotus next door for our pre-booked dinner and gamelan performance. The Café Lotus has to be one of the most remarkable restaurants on the island, not only for it's delightful menu of traditional and Western fare but especially for it's unrivaled ambience and views. The restaurant has two dining areas: the main area up front with standard chairs and tables and an elongated raised platform with low tables on bamboo mats and cushions that runs alongside one of the lotus ponds.
the view of the stage and temple from our table at Cafe Lotus
I ordered the Bebek Betutu, described on the menu as a half duckling basted with fragrant herbs wrapped in banana leaves and cooked underground for 12 hours. It was fragrant indeed and oh so tender, which I suppose is a result of it's rather unique cooking method. Rina chose the Be Pasih Goa Lawah, fish fillet marinated in turmeric, lemongrass, tamarind, garlic, shallots, chili, kaffir lime leaves and garlic.
The facade of the stunning Saraswati temple is used as a backdrop and open stage for the regular performances held here almost nightly. Diners have the option of watching the performance across the ponds while they dine or having an early pre-show dinner and then transferring to the seats set up in front of the stage for a close-up view. As per Catur's advice we chose to do the latter and I'm so glad we did. It would have been a shame to miss out on the choreographed movement of eyeballs, fingertips, heads and toes.
So after polishing off a shared dessert of plantains in palm sugar and toasted coconut, we made our way to our seats. It was a spellbinding show on a spectacular night marred only by nasty flesh-eating mosquitoes (I swear, all insects love my blood!). So while hopelessly trying to swat them away, I watched the stories unfold before me in music and dance.
For 50,000 rupiah (less than $6), we were treated to 7 acts by the Chandra Wirabhuana gamelan orchestra. The first was part was an overture performed solely by the gamelan that was divided into two groups on either side of the stage. The piece was called Cerukcuk Wana and the delicate percussion sounds mimic those of the melodious Cerukcuk bird song.
The basic gamelan orchestra is made up of a series of xylophone-like instruments known as gangsa and brass gongs. Both of which are struck with a mallet to produce deep resounding notes. Also typically used in a gamelan are bamboo flutes, cymbals and double-sided drums or kendang that are beaten with the palm of the hand or fingers.
For the second act, the first of many female dancers came out from behind the shadows. She plays Chandra Wangi, a pure teenage girl formed in the image of the Goddess of the Moon who brings peace and harmony to all. Her costume and head piece are adorned with gilded ornaments and she moves with precision to the tempo of the music from the gamelan, jerking her head this way and that; her eyes darting left and right are so full of expression no words are needed; and her hands gesture meaningfully. She is mesmerizing. And I almost forget to take photos.
In Bali, dancing is not only done for one's own pleasure or for entertainment, it is also a means to commune with the gods. The different dances are categorized into secular or sacred, with the latter reserved for mystical rites. What we witnessed on this night were secular dances such as the mask dance and the tari satya brasta which is a battle scene based on an excerpt from the Mahabharata (below).
Rina and I both agreed that most impressive of all was the third act, the kebyar terompong, whose star performer stunned us all as he executed the dance with impeccably choreographed eye-hand-neck movements while he played the terompong. On his face is the unmistakable range of expressions from curious shyness to pain to sadness and coy flirtation. This is human coordination at it's best!
We continued to watch as more stories unfolded before us on this nippy night. By the time the show came to an end an hour later, we were lulled into a completely restful state. I could see the faint light in our bedroom from where we sat and I wanted nothing more at that moment than to be tucked in and cruising through dreamland.
Jl Raya Ubud, Bali
Tel. (0361) 975660