11 February 2010

Classical Dance: Height of Aristocratic Elegance

There is natural rhythm in the people, especially the women of Solo and Yogyakarta – their slender figures gliding softly, fluidly and gracefully as if dancing to some tune. Such movements, long ago rippled through the rich culture of the two cities, as is evident in Borobudur and the Prambanan where bas-reliefs depict various forms of classical dance. But it wasn’t until the early part of this century that dance and music became primary art forms.

The Mangkunegaran and Kasunanan styles of Solo or Surakarta, as it is called, developed in different sources that each court drew upon. Dance critics will not hesitate to tell you that the Mangkunegaran dance bears a greater similarity to Yogyakarta’s martial style than to the graceful, flowing movements of the Surakarta keratin. Credit for this goes to the young Yogyakarta princess who, after marrying Mangkunegara VII, brought her dance teachers with her.

The most sacred and mystical of dance forms linked closely with the courts are the Bedoyo and the Srimpi dances. Until recently, these dances could not be performed outside the palaces and young girls who performed them were required to be virgins of aristocratic birth.

Dance performances were sometimes exchanged between courts as royal “gifts” but the dances were never taught to outsiders, as they were regarded as powerful magical possessions of the ruler.

The Bedoyo Ketawang, which is the most sacred of all court dances, depicts the courtship of the founder of the Mataram dynasty, Panembahan Senopati, with the goddess of the south sea, Kanjeng Ratu Kidul. This dance is performed every year in the central Pendopo of the palace on the anniversary of the Sunan’s coronation. The ethereal beauty of this dance, performed by nine women, is truly unforgettable!

It takes patience to fully appreciate the ceremonial nature of the classical dances. As one writer says, they are almost meditative in quality. Dance represents and celebrates the virtues of Javanese culture: grace, poise, elegance and inner peace. Dance is also used to educated Javanese girls about moderty ans self-control, the most desired character trait of a cultured Javanese.
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image source: www.jawakidul.nl