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THE JANGER DANCE

An inevitable sight for the newly arrived tourist every Saturday morning was the djanger. Under the hanging roots of a great waringing, or banyan tree, in the central square of the village, sat a dozen boys and a dozen girls in groups of six, forming a square, the girls facing the girls, the boys opposite each other; a dance master, the daag, sat in the centre. The boys wore blue sashes and red hibiscus over their ears; the girls had great fanshaped head-dresses of flowers and were wrapped in gilt cloth from the armpits to the feet. The boys shouted and shook while the girls sang with baby voices, flinging their hands and flashing their eyes. After a while a girl appeared dressed as a prince, singing and posturing, quarrelling with a wild-looking bird, an actor with a frightful mask, wings, and a bright-coloured tail. The show ended with the death of the bird, shot by an arrow of the prince. Half of the tourists looked on, while the other half snapped pictures furiously. The performance was picturesque and justified the fee, but somehow it did not ring true. Despite the fact that the elaborate show was held on the open road, it attracted only a few children, and the dancers seemed bored and indifferent.

On our first night in Bali, strolling on the outskirts of DenPasar, we heard again the same syncopated, persistent beat of drums and gongs we had heard in the morning. Following the sound, we came upon a great crowd watching a show, and after a good deal of pushing, we managed to make our way to the front rows. There were the dancers of the morning, but it was the djanger for the Balinese. Instead of tourists comfortably seated on folding chairs, the nude torsos of a great mob of eager people pressed us on all. sides until we could not move a band and were nearly suffocated by the constant blast of human breath, overpowered with heat and the heavy perfumes that emanated from the dense crowd. Children climbed on walls and trees or crawled over our feet, trying desperately to see something. Instead of the " traditional costume worn for tourists, the girls wore tight chiffon blouses, their flower crowns framing their heavily powdered faces. The boys were dressed in European shirts, neckties, shorts, golf socks, and football shoes. Over their shoulders they wore a sort of chasuble of black velvet with applique's of gold braid, spangles, and epaulets of gold fringe. They had red flowers on their bare beads and incongruous false moustaches on their chalky faces. Only the dance master wore the usual theatrical costume of brocade, but with an added shirt and bow tie. Like the others he wore a huge moustache.

.We never discovered the purpose behind the absurd costume; perhaps it was only fun, perhaps to caricature Europeans. But the insanity of the costume was surpassed by that of the performance: to the serpentine melody of a bamboo flute and the syncopated beat of drums and gongs, the girls sang nonsensical songs about flowers, rice cakes, and so forth, many words without meaning, simply to create rhythm: " djange - djange djangerere . . . " while their hands flew, the flowers on their head r shook, and their eyes snapped in unison with their necks. The boys, the ketjak, swayed and shook, shouting: " Ketjakketjakketjak - tjak! tjipo - oh! tjipo - oh! a-ha-aha! " much in the manner of a college yell, but growing faster and faster, underlining the tempo of the gongs and drums. The dance master darted wild glances in all directions with gestures of anger and
astonishment, moving like a frantic automaton. The whole moved with the rhythm of a locomotive at full speed - Balinese jazz that intoxicated both performers and audience in a spell of syncopated movement. At calmer moments two girls stepped out of the ranks and danced around the dance master, who registered amazement when the girls made love to him. Then the most incongruous nonsense ensued: like a flash, the ketjaks jumped to their feet in acrobatic poses, athletic pyramids, a boy in a back-bend while another stood on his chest. They climbed on each other's shoulders, shaking and shouting. Suddenly the dance master whirled on his seat as if be could not stand it any longer, and yelled: " Daaag! " The -whole show stopped dead. After a pause the play began, an ardja story with the usual, princes, prime ministers, and clowns.

Later I found out that the di2nger was a recent development. It had started suddenly, when, about 1925, the first company of Malay operettas (stambul) visited the island. The Balinese immediately created their own version of the pantomime, and the djanger spread like an epidemic; everywhere djanger groups were formed and soon every bandjar could boast a djanger club. It was the first time that boys and girls joined to dance for the fun of performing together, their first social dance. Every district developed its own style. In Buleleng there was a group in which the girls wore shorts, showing their legs, a rather shocking exhibition for the Balinese, who called it djanger melalong, the naked djanger," but it was popular among, the rich Chinese of Buleleng. The djanger was then the most popular entertainment. Nobody cared to see anything else and every girl in Bali hoped to become a djanger and bummed the songs all day. We feared that the djanger would kill other forms of Balinese dancing, but on our return two years later, we were surprised to find that there was no more djanger; all the famous groups had stopped. Some of the girls had married, and since there was no more demand, the groups were not reorganized. The most exhilarating show of the Balinese was dead and forgotten. Only a sleepy group remained: the djanger for the t6utists, still avidly photographing what they called " temple dancers."

With the passing of the djanger, the classical forms of theatre regained popularity, and during our second visit it was the ardja that had again become the favourite. The style of the djanger was a puzzling departure from the refinement of the Balinese theatre. The singing was obviously derived from the magic sanghyang songs, and the costumes and acrobatic figures might have been copied from the Westernized Malay shows, but the general mood, the seating arrangements, and the movements can only be explained as a throw-back to the Polynesian spirit.

The case of the djanger was an interesting example of the attitude of the Balinese towards their arts: their love of novelty and easy following after all new ideas, which are soon assimilated into their traditional forms. This enables the islanders to create new styles constantly, to inject new life steadily into their culture, which at the same time never loses its Balinese characteristics.

 

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