Would you like to be part of the company for a night?’ Bandem asked. He had been very patient explaining the dance and story to us.
Of course we would and it was arranged: we were to be at ASTI at 6.30 sharp on the following evening. `And there is no need to bring umbrellas’, Bandem said, `it will not rain’.
The rainy season was under way and there was every chance of rain, every night. Why did he think tomorrow would be dry? `We have arranged it’, he said a little roguishly.
The dancers must learn formulae to protect themselves while dancing, especially while in a state of trance, and they learn also old incantations to keep away the rain. It is a matter of everyday magic. `On the next day, for the first time ever, Betty forgot to bring her umbrella. We were well on our way, under low, dark clouds, before she thought of it and there was no time to turn back to the hotel.
Anyway, we were running late. It would be a long night and we had decided to have a meal beforehand. We found what seemed to be the slowest restaurant in Bali. At 6.30 sharp, our meal was arriving at the table. We wolfed it and bustled through the crowded market to hire a pony cart, known as a`dokkar’. We found one with a pretty pony with bells on his harness, perhaps the slowest pony in Bali. We tinkled through the streets and our lugubrious driver assured us we were too late and it was no use.
Really there was no need to worry. In Bali, time is made of rubber. At ASTI, students were waiting on the veranda and a truck was standing in the grounds. We were not at all the last to arrive. We had half an hour to wait. When the time came to leave, all the lithe dancers leapt into the back of the truck and Betty and I made it in our own way. It was starting to spit rain – so much for incantations – so we worked our way subtly towards two doubters at the front of the press who were opening umbrellas.
The truck took us north on empty roads, through dark villages and between rice fields where water glinted dully. The rain stopped and in the truck was a feeling of warmth and happiness. Now and again a chorus of song burst out. Students came through the crowd to speak to us and two befriended us for the evening. One was a pretty dancer from Java, the other a Balinese boy with a gentle, sensitive face and an ambition to be a clown.
The company was to perform the Ramayana Ballet at the village of Batubulan (Moonstone). The truck pulled up before one of the village temples, we trouped inside and, after removing our shoes, into the centre of a large, square pavilion. As the others sat, so did we, cross-legged on woven mats. Food was brought to us, rice and spiced meat wrapped in banana leaf, and glasses of thick Balinese coffee, black and grainy. Under amused instruction from the sweet Javanese dancer and the clown we ate with our fingers, spilling rice all about and on our feet, which looked pitiful and pale amongst the firm, brown Indonesian feet. Our second meal of the evening was better than the first.
At about nine o’clock the company retired to put on make-up and costumes. The application of the make-up was a slow and marvellous ritual. The costumes were elaborate; there were masks and golden head-dresses, beautiful sashes and sarongs. They all came out of a huge wooden box with intricate carving.
We were shown to our seats. The Javanese girl whom David so much admired, was not dancing and sat with us. We were favoured; we had front seats, on the platform and under the roof of the pavilion. Students came to talk for a while. The dalang of the dance at KOKAR brought a friend to meet us. He was a stocky man with a proud, direct gaze, a manly man, and he was to be the dalang for this Ramayana Ballet.
We waited: ten o’clock, ten-thirty. Suddenly, the hundreds of open air seats in the temple grounds were filled and a mass of little boys squatted and wriggled in front of our feet. The performance, Indonesian style, would go on into the morning; there was no hurry to begin.
The music began; drums, gongs and metallophones. The dance began; fluid movement and colourful costume. The crowd of children in the front of the audience applauded passages of both music and dance; they were wide eyed. Bandem, Dibia, the great Mario, all the dancers on stage, dancers through the centuries, had once belonged to that throng.
There was no interval. I was exhausted. We had been very busy in the last few days, then the journey to Batubulan, the waiting, the pair of dinners. Now and again a small boy would drop his head to his knees, or the shoulder of a friend, and sleep a little while. My head dropped the same way; but we were guests and prominently placed. We decided it was best to take a walk.
We walked out of the temple grounds and bought drinks and brown-sugar sweets at a stall. The scene outside was almost as colourful as the ballet itself, with light from oil lamps falling on the bamboo and thatch of stalls. A road led off into darkness under a skyline of palms. We talked with a stall holder about families and music. I was tired and David was pale and ill, breathing with difficulty.
The story of the Ramayana came to an end. Rama and Sita were happily together and the monkey general Hanuman basked in glory. Stall-holders lifted their tables onto their heads and carried them away, little boys stood and dusted their bottoms. The crowd drifted away slowly along dark roads. It was 3 a.m. We waited for the truck to take us back to Denpasar. We were tired, but we knew we were happy.
`It didn’t rain’. One of us said. It was a starry morning after all. In Bali everyone is a little artist – perhaps a little magician too.
In the early thirties, when the German painter, Walter Spies and the Dutch painter, Rudolf Bonnet settled in the Ubud district, a Belgian painter, Adrien Jean le Mayeur settled in Klandis, a small village near Denpasar.
His favourite model was a legong dancer, Ni Pollok, whom he married in 1935. Their house in Sanur has become the property of the Indonesian Government and, as The Museum Le Mayeur, is open to the public.
The le Mayeur house is as richly decorated as a Hindu temple or the instruments of a Balinese gamelan. Furniture is deeply carved, painted and gilded. On the walls are continuous murals, in the painter’s decorative style, of Balinese scenes, of Balinese girls. One face and figure is repeated again and again, the Legong dancer, wife of the artist.
And in the gift shop, we find the same face and figure again, Ni Pollok. In life, she was of course older than the figure in the paintings, but still serene, still beautiful. She allowed me to draw her and sat relaxed, without embarrassment. She was used to modelling.
The museum seemed dedicated to a love story.
`My husband taught me to write and we used a stick and wrote in the sand of the beach’, said Ni Pollok. `He was my teacher as well as my husband. And he was my friend.’
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