Dancing With the Apes: Kecak Dance, Bali
But monkeys are untouchable in this Hindu temple perched on a cliff above the Indian Ocean. Every night, in a performance of the Kecak, or Monkey Dance, the monkey-like Varana helps a prince fight off an evil king while 100 men chatter like macaques.
It is based on the Ramayana story mashed up with an unrelated exorcism dance during which participants get worked up into a trance, with a fire dance thrown in for good measure. It is a unabashedly a tourist show, created by German artist Walter Spies and dancer Wayan Limbak in the 1930s so there is really nothing sacred about it even though it is performed in temples. In fact, some Balinese villages designate a portion of the proceeds from tourist shows to support traditional rituals and education in the arts. The Kecak is a choreographed show, not a cheap, watered down version of an ancient ritual, and as many times as I have seen it, I still find it haunting, hypnotic, entertaining and downright weird.
I condensed a performance of the Kecak into a short video, ending in a fire dance, during which a storm hit. The wind blew fire into the audience, but no one was hurt. Just a little added drama to an impressive performance. Thankfully the real monkeys kept their distance.