Selasa, 05 Agustus 2008

Bondres: Bali Style of Comedy

Balinese people have a great sense of humour. This can be seen through their visual arts such as painting, sculpture and the performing arts; including the sacred puppet-shadow and mask dance. Clown characters that make jokes and help audiences understand stories are pre-eminent in all of the Balinese performing arts.

One of the most popular forms of performing arts that is dominated by or often focuses upon only humorous elements, is bondres, also known as topeng bondres. Topeng in Balinese means mask, while bondres refers to comic characters. Topeng bondres means an amusing form of mask used by dancers to make a comical appearance.

Bondres became known in the mid 1970s through the birth of a mask dance group called Topeng Carangsari, named after the village of Carangsari, North of Sangeh Monkey forest. Before this decade, the word 'bondres' was not known and still doesn't appear in today's dictionary of the Balinese language.

The Topeng Carangsari was the first group of mask-dancers to create the typical clown and they made the whole performance entertaining through their fresh, original, and smart jokes. Mask-dance used to be a sacred or serious dance, usually performed to accompany a ritual such as a temple festival or a particular stage in a cremation ritual. When the mask-dance transformed into a performing genre, like prembon, by performing particular stories such as the genealogy of a king or clan, they were hardly entertaining and quite boring. Suddenly, Topeng Carangsari lead by a talented dancer, I Gusti Ngurah Windia, came up with great format of mask-dance which is called topeng tugèk Carangsari. Tugèk means 'chubby beautiful lady'.

Topeng Tugèk Carangsari created three distinctive characters who are a chubby-cheeked lady, the hare lipped arrogant man, and a deaf old man. These three characters have similar important roles, which are to articulate the story and to make audiences laugh. Interestingly, these characters were all played by one dancer, Ngurah Windia, who also played other characters such as a priest and king's adviser or enemy. He played each role just by changing masks and voices accordingly. The total number of topeng dancers is six. Other characters are the princess and her follower, the king (played by a female dancer) and two of his male adjutants. They were quite a solid group.

The prelude scene, marked by a couple of mask dances, was followed by several scenes that led into a plan for a big ritual in the palace such as a wedding. Since the king was respected by his people, he then received a lot of support to make the party run smoothly. The three funny characters enthusiastically come to the palace as representatives of the people.
Using a mixture of languages - Balinese, Indonesian, and a bit of English, the arrogant man comes first, and says how he will dedicate his skill to the wedding ritual. Identifying himself as a civil servant who works at an upper level he appears so confident yet hilarious. He uses a lot of word games, mixing language, and mocking references to modernity and current issues in tourism, thereby giving fresh and authentic jokes for the audience.

As for the other two characters, the chubby-cheeked lady and the deaf old man, although looking very old, the woman introduces herself as a virgin and still a university student. When the king's adjutant welcomes and mocks her as an old and unattractive woman, she then gives the man a lesson by showing her high knowledge of moral and religious values. The funny elements from the character of the deaf old man come from the dialogue between the two, which is full of misunderstandings. Although almost all bondres characters are depicted as stupid, they also sometimes appear as smart and literate people who know a lot about history, tradition, and religious values; reflecting the high literacy level of the dancer, Ngurah Windia.

The Topeng Tugèk Carangsari was very popular throughout the 1980s and 1990s. They were invited not only for ritual or ordinary performances but also used by government institutions and NGOs to promote ideas including 'awareness of tourism', 'awareness of law', on family planning, and on road traffic. Now their dancers are getting old and are unable to perform with the original team. Moreover, their jokes are losing some of their humour since they have been continually recycled by other bondres groups.

The Topeng Tugèk Carangsari group has been very influential. Almost all bondres groups have copied its format with very little adjustment. Mask-dance groups from Denpasar, Badung, and even from North Bali nowadays, often recycle the format and content of Topeng Tugèk Carangsari's humour. Now such mask dances often also appear on TV and are used to make trade promotions. A bondres group from North Bali, which has been very popular recently, has a western dancer that makes it possible for the group to offer more jokes in language games between Balinese, Indonesian and English, either when the Balinese express thing in English or the western dancer says something in Balinese or Indonesian.

Recently, many bondres have left out the stories from their performances and transformed it into pure comedy. After the Bali bombings, several bondres groups were invited by government or NGOs to entertain the public in order to help society eliminate their fears. Bondres also often appear in hotels or even at police station anniversary celebrations. Most of the groups are still able to make people laugh although they are not as funny as the original Topeng Tugèk Carangsari; the pioneers of what is an essentially typical Balinese form of comedy.



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