Rare 1930s Bali temple dance film on show in Britain

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The Independent Culture

Rare photographs and footage of traditional Balinese dances from the 1930s go on show tomorrow at the Horniman Museum in London.

They form the centre-piece of the most extensive exhibition of Balinese arts and culture ever held in this country and which explores the central role temple and secular dances in the Indonesian island’s society.

The 4,000-odd photographs and 35mm films were collected by Bloomsbury Group scholar and dance critic Beryl de Zoete and Walter Spies, the painter and choreographer credited with putting Bali under the Western spotlight.

Spies lived in Bali until his death in 1942, and was famously beloved by the locals. It is his influence and friendship with the Balinese that is thought to have enabled some of temple dances (which would normally have been performed at night) to be recorded on film.

Contemporary footage of the various dances – including trance and Kris dances-, modern Balinese costumes and artefacts will be on show beside their 1930s equivalents to illustrate how the traditions have altered in the last 70 years.

“The modern costumes which we collected are much more elaborate than those from the Thirties,” the exhibition’s curator Fiona Kerlogue said.

“I think the same is true of the choreography. Obviously the essentials are the same, they still perform the same steps at the same ceremonies, but they’ve been refined and embellished.”

Other highlights include a never-previously-exhibited artworks by Spies and Balinese artists he endorsed, a full and lavishly decorated Gamelan orchestra, Rangda masks, shadow puppets, sculptures and textiles depicting legends from Bali’s Hindu tradition.

‘Bali- dancing for the gods’ is at the Horniman Museum from 16 April until 8 January 2012. For a full programme of events and performances linked to the exhibition visit www.horniman.ac.uk