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A performance by a good ardja ensemble is a social event in the village. It is at ardja shows that young people meet and love affairs are started, helped by the romantic atmosphere of the love stories and the late hours. The performance never begins before midnight, and the villagers wait patiently, gossiping, flirting, listening to music, or munching peanuts until the actors have eaten their interminable dinner and are finally dressed.

The play begins with the appearance of the tjondong, the female attendant of the putri, the eternal princess. The part of the tjondong is usually played by a middle-aged, homely, male actor dressed as a girl, who walks in an effeminate way, singing praises to his mistress and begging her to come out. She is finally persuaded; the curtains of the little booth at the end of the dancing-space part and the much heralded beauty appears. In progressive ardjas she may be a young girl dressed in gold, with a great flower bead-dress; but generally beautiful young girls cannot -sing very well and in " good " ardjas the part is played by a male actor famous for his high falsetto. Slowly the two work their way across the stage, dancing and posturing, the servant occasionally kneeling before the princess, all the while singing and talking in high, wailing voices. After this, they go d9 off-stage " simply by sitting on a mat in front of the orchestra.

Deep hollow laughter is heard from behind the curtain, followed by a song announcing the patih, the prime minister of the great prince, the hero of the play. The patih draws back the curtain and after what seems like unsuccessful attempts to come out, be finally emerges, very impressive and sure of his importance. He struts and grins, singing his own praises, laughing pompously. His abused and browbeaten younger brother Kertalah comes out meekly after him. He is a pitiful little figure dressed in an old football sweater and what look like the old clothes of the patih. Instead of a gold kris, he carries a stick or some sort of agricultural implement. His face is crossed with dabs of white paint over his nose and upper lip to indicate that be is a clown. They hold long dialogues, giving hints of the story to follow. The patih in his hollow, pretentious manner postures and struts like a turkey; Kertalah lisps or stutters. They joke about topical and local matters, much in the style of circus clowns, with the patih playing " straight " and acting as foil for the clown. They are the favourites of the crowd and every time an " off-colour " joke is made, it is the women and children who laugh the loudest, while the men blush.


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Finally it is time for the prince, the ratu', to appear; the patih recites his praises and with clasped hands begs him to enter. He describes the prince's beauty as contrasted with his own ugliness, and flatters him, in standard phrases such as: ". I am so happy to be the patih of such a prince, ha, ha, ha! Come out, Excellency, the road is clear, please come out, I wait for my master

The prince appears, glittering with gold and tinsel, singing in kawi, dancing in the refined style. The patih and Kertalah follow every one of his gestures in awe, trying to imitate them, but succeeding only in a burlesque. By now it is about three in the morning and time for the story to begin. The ardja stories are romantic episodes of memorable love affairs of princes and princesses, generally full of fantastic situations and with a distinct erotic flavour. The distinguished characters speak and sing in kawi, which is translated into common Balinese by the comedians for the benefit of the unscholarly crowd.

The comedy is incredibly funny and rough slapstick, sprinkled with all sorts of bawdy jokes. Besides the traditional stories, there are popular new plays such as Sampik and Tuan Wei, adaptations of Chinese love stories that started in 1924 as bastard performances with actors in European clothes playing on mandolins. Eventually these stories became thoroughly Balinese and were incorporated in the ardja.


 
 
 
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