The captivating Tari Kecak dance, also called ‘the monkey chant dance’, and loosely 'fire dance' for its occasional use of fire as a centrepiece prop, was created around 1930 and is now internationally recognised as one of Bali’s top-three signature dances (alongside the Barong and Legong).
The Kecak dance is unique in that it has no other musical background or accompaniment besides the chanting of male dancers, intoning a “keh-chack” polyrhythmic choir during most of the performance. Kecak’s storyline is taken from the Ramayana Hindu epic and it’s often on the entertainment schedule of almost every Balinese arts and culture venue.
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Tari Kecak is simply accompanied by the a cappella chorus of dozens of men including one leader to set the tones, one soloist, one in charge of intoning high and low notes, as well as a narrator. The men wear chequered sarongs and are seated in tight, concentric circles with a central space reserved for the protagonist characters.
The main characters depict Rama, Sita, Ravana, Lakshmana, Hanuman and Sugriva. The storyline generally starts from when prince Rama goes to the woods with Sita, his wife, and Lakshmana, his brother. There, Ravana kidnaps Sita and imprisons her in his castle. Rama seeks for help and sends Lakshmana to find his friend, Sugriva, the King of the Monkey Kingdom. Hanuman, Sugriva’s commander, is sent to check on Sita in Ravana’s palace and Rama finally begins the battle.
At first, Ravana wins, but Sugriva and Hanuman then come to Rama’s aid with monkey troops. Sugriva finally wins. The male chorus chants ‘chack’, representing the sound of the monkey troops. The soft rattling sound of bells around the protagonists’ ankles is the only addition to Tari Kecak’s choral background.
Good to Know and What not to Miss
Tari Kecak actually originated from a Balinese ancient ritual called 'sanghyang' in which dancers fall into a trance. It is also a form of an exorcism and can go on for hours or even months. The ritual used to only take place inside temple grounds.
In 1930, a German artist, Walter Spies, created a touristic dramatic version of the 'sanghyang' by adopting the Ramayana epic as well. He worked together with Balinese dancer Wayan Limbak, and took their innovation on a world tour. Kecak shot to fame.
The Kecak dance has been developed and modified since the 70s. Some performances now use a different storylines from another part of the Ramayana epic and some use a female Kecak chorus.
Tabanan’s Kecak Kolosal event at Tanah Lot in 2006 used 5,000 male dancers – a world record.
Best venues to watch Tari Kecak are at Pura Uluwatu and Pura Tanah Lot. Other performances can be found easily all over Bali, such as at the GWK Cultural Park, Pura Dalem Ubud, the Padang Tegal Stage, Batubulan, the Umadewi Stage, and many others. Kecak performances in the Gianyar regency are usually more spiritual-oriented than dramatic.
Kecak Dance Performances Locations
Uluwatu Temple is located in Pecatu Village, Kuta Sub-District, Badung District, about 25km south of Kuta and it usually takes around one hour to get to from there. Daily Kecak performance is at 18:00.
Tanah Lot Temple in the Beraban Village, Tabanan. It is about 30 minutes from Kuta, 13km to the west from downtown Tabanan next to Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort. Daily Kecak performances take place at Surya Mandala Cultural Park, starting at 19:00.
GWK Cultural Park on Jalan Raya Uluwatu, Ungasan village, about 20 minutes from Kuta, on the road from Jimbaran to Uluwatu. Daily Kecak performances take place at the GWK Amphitheatre, starting at 18:30.
Pura Dalem Ubud temple is located on the main Jalan Raya Ubud. You can see Tari Kecak performances here every Monday and Friday, starting from 19:30.
Padang Tegal Stage is situated on Jalan Hanoman in Ubud. You can watch Kecak here every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday from 19:00.
Batubulan village is located on the western countryside of the Gianyar district, approximately 10km from Denpasar and 17km from the main town of Gianyar.
Umadewi Stage is located on Jalan Waribang no. 21, Kesiman, Denpasar. Daily Kecak performances start at 18:30.