Legong is a form of Balinese dance. It is a refined dance form characterized by intricate finger movements, complicated footwork, and expressive gestures and facial expressions.
Legong probably originated in the 19th century as royal entertainment. Legend has it that a prince of Sukawati fell ill and had a vivid dream in which two maidens danced to gamelan music. When he recovered, he arranged for such dances to be performed in reality. Others believe that the Legong originated with the sanghyang dedari, a ceremony involving voluntary possession of two little girls by beneficent spirits. Legong is also danced at public festivals. Excerpts from Legong dance dramas are put on for tourists.
Traditionally, legong dancers were girls who have not yet reached puberty. They began rigorous training at about the age of five. These dancers are regarded highly in the society and usually become wives of royal personages or wealthy merchants. After marriage they would stop dancing. However, in present Indonesia dancers may be of all ages; performances by men in women’s costumes are also recorded.
Classical Legong enacts several traditional stories. The most common is the tale of the King of Lasem from the Malat, a collection of heroic romances. He is at war with another king, the father (or brother) of Princess Ranjasari. Lasem wants to marry the girl, but she detests him and tries to run away. Becoming lost in the forest, she is captured by Lasem, who imprisons her and goes out for a final assault against her family. He is attacked by a monstrous raven, which foretells his death.
The dramatics are enacted in elaborate and stylized pantomime. The two little actresses are accompanied by a third dancer called a condong or attendant. She sets the scene, presents the dancers with their fans and later plays the part of the raven.
Traditionally, fifteen types of legong dance were known. The duration, movement, and narrative of each type differed. Some, for instance, could last for an hour. These types included:
- Legong Bapang Saba
- Legong Jebog
- Legong Kraton
- Legong Kuntir
- Legong Lasem
- Legong Raja Cina
- Legong Semarandana
- Legong Sudasarna
The Legong Lasem is probably the most well known and most performed of all the Legong dances. Also called Legong Kraton (“Palace Legong”), the story is taken from the history of East Java in the 12th and 13th century. It tells of the King of Lasem and how he found the maiden Rangkesari lost in the forest. He abducts her and locks her up. The King of Lasem attempts to woo Rangkesari but she refuses his advances because she is already engaged to Prince Panji. Rangkesari’s brother, the Prince of Daha, learns of her captivity and threatens to declare war unless she is set free. Rangkesari pleads with the king to set her free so that war may be averted but the king preferred to fight. On his way to battle, he meets a bird of omen that predicts his death. The bird’s prediction came true and the king dies in battle.
Condong Dance, a preface to the Legong Dance
Condong is generally used as a preface to the legong dance, and thus performed before it (although it may be dropped). It may also be performed before gambuh or arja dances; the condong character is typical of all of them. The condong character is also consistent throughout different stories, a quintessential representation of the maidservant who has introduced various princess characters, both Balinese and non-Balinese, including Rangkesari, Ophelia, and Miranda.
In dances prefacing legong performances, the condong dancer enters the stage first, and performs her routine. The dancer is generally a young girl, and her movements take what ethnomusicologist Michael Tenzer terms a “sharp and intense” character. When the legong performance proper begins, the condong dancer may dance with the legong dancers, presenting each dancer with a fan before withdrawing. The average length of a condong performance is about 15 minutes. In the legong lasem form, the condong dancer returns with the wings of a raven to foretell the demise of the titular King Lasem.
As with legong dances, condong is accompanied by the semar pangulingan style of gamelan. This musical accompaniment takes the form of a series of short 16-beat melodies, in the gegaboran metre. In the condong dance performed as a preface to legong kraton, the music concludes with a shift to batel metre.
The condong dance originated in the palaces of Bali in the mid-19th century. Its creator is not known, but folk history suggests that a prince of Sukawati, deathly ill, saw a vision of two beautiful girls dancing gracefully while accompanied by gamelan music; upon regaining his health, this prince recreated the dance he had seen. It originally told the story of two bidadari (nymphs) named Supraba and Wilotama. By the 1930s the story had been modified, telling of a king or queen and their subject.
In current performances, the condong dancer plays the role of the subject. The choreographer Ni Ketut Arini describes the condong dancer as portraying a palace servant who both serves the king and is in awe of his power, and of the beauty of the king’s daughter.
Many of the movements are simplified versions of the various legong dances; indeed, condong is considered a basic Balinese dance, and is thus learned by many children.
There have been efforts to preserve the condong dance in Bali. These have included competitions in which children perform the dance for points. Movements from condong have been adapted to more recent creations, including panyembrama (I Wayan Berata; 1971), which also includes legong movements.