The Bedhaya, laden with deep symbolic or even religious meaning and usually performed by nine dancers, is, along with its many variations, the most sacred of all Javanese court dances. The oldest existing form is the bedhaya ketawang, preserved as a pusaka, or royal heirloom, in the kraton of Surakarta, and is regularly performed at the kraton of Mangkunagara.
The bedhaya is an extremely slow and solemn dance. The dancers arrive on the scene in an orderly geometric procession formation, carrying the hems of their batik sarongs. Majestic, almost martial, music accompanies them to the scene of the performance, usually a pendhapa hall open at the sides, a typical feature of kraton architecture.
The dancers then kneel down in respect before beginning the actual dance. The footwork is relatively simple, but the grouping of the dancers changes almost unnoticeably, creating ever-newer and increasingly intricate patterns, like pieces on a chessboard. The face is kept strictly expressionless, and the eyes look down, while the dancers undulate to the gamelan music in a continuous flow of movement like underwater plants.
In the basic position, the dancers’ knees are bent, making the body S-shaped. This extremely demanding position, sometimes making the dancers collapse and faint, permits, however, flexibility for sharp rises and falls of the body and accentuates the otherwise continuous legato-like movement.
At times, the dancers continue their uninterrupted movement crouching on their knees, and at other times they make sudden, deep asymmetric bends.
The bedhaya dancers wear a batik sarong, often decorated with motifs restricted to court use. …This is skilfully manipulated with the tips of the fingers, the controlled handling being an essential part of the choreography.
…The text sung by the chorus usually has no direct connection with the dance or the stylised battle enacted by the principal dancers, but only sets the general mood of the performance.
The bedhaya still has a deep religious meaning for both the performers and the spectators. Its aesthetic principles are linked to a non-verbal, esoteric conception of beauty and strength, and the dancing of bedhaya is seen as a kind of yoga or meditation.
Source: Central Javanese Court Dances
the hyaline butterfly wearing
the shifting sky
Ken Sawitri (Indonesia)Published for the 1st time in The Shiki Monthly Kukai July 2015 (Quiet)Organized by George Hawkins