Theatre :THE SEKA BARONG OF SINGAPADU QEH, London

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The Independent Culture
The evening promenaders were enjoying a drink overlooking the Thames when, with a crash of cymbals, gongs and drums, a huge shaggy four- legged creature festooned with red and gold leapt around the corner and, to the throng's evident concern, ran amok. The Balinese Barong, for it was he, was on his way towards the QEH where he and his escort of 40 musician and dancers were performing as part of the London International Festival of Theatre.

From the Balinese village of Singapadu, renowned for its music and dance- drama performances since the 1900s, the Seka Barong troupe processed into the hall to present a fiercely dynamic and brash mixture of the best of Balinese music and dance woven seamlessly into a coherent whole. The leader of the troupe, I Wayan Dibia, aware that Balinese arts are adapting as part of the process for survival, presented a virtuoso programme full of sound, colour, humour and the underlying darkness that is omnipresent in Balinese music and dance.

The crafty Barong, probably seizing the chance to puff a few lung-disabling Balinese fags, disappeared until the second half, but the audience was well served in its absence. With frangipani flowers behind the ear and gold headcloths to the fore, the musicians making up the virtuoso gamelan opened with some fiery kebyar, giving them an opportunity to show off before they were joined by a soloist who performed an intricate seated dance while simultaneously playing the trompong, a row of suspended pots in a bright red and gold frame. The jauk featured a demon undergoing "sinister convolutions" and was followed by the bumblebee dance and the archetypal Balinese legong, performed by three young gold-clad girls.

The clash between the Barong, representing good, and the witch Rangda, in the blue corner and on the side of evil, exemplifies the Balinese-Hindu search for balance between opposing forces - the Seka Barong presented highlights of the Barong epic, which can sometimes last all night, in an acceptably cut-down version. The kris sword dance found the performers all hacking at their bodies, accompanied by the gamelan which rose to a truly extraordinary Hitchcock-like two-note crescendo; four rather erotic witches performed contemporary-looking choreography; the Calonarang character appeared as a manifestation of Rangda (the word means widow), with claw- like fingernails, bulging eyes and fangs; and the performance was accompanied by the traditional comic commentary, which seemed to lose nothing by being in Balinese and had the audience in stitches.

n To Sat, QEH, London SE1 (Booking: 0171-928 8800)

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