Kebyar duduk dancer

This Art Deco sculpture of a kebyar duduk dancer has an expressive and stylized design. The dancer is shown in a half-kneeling dance position, holding a fan in the right hand and holding two fingers of the left hand against his udeng (headcloth). It looks like he’s making a salute to the audience at the start of his dance performance.

The 30 centimeter high statue was probably made in the 1930s. Like most wood carvings from this period, a signature of the maker is missing, but the refined design indicates a master carver’s hand. The woodcarver has done his best to accurately depict the dance position. Notice, for example, how the hand with the fan is turned inward. The dancer’s piercing gaze and turned feet are also characteristic of the kebyar duduk. Details such as these show that the woodcarver observed the dance moves closely.

I Mario
Most likely it’s a statue of the famous Balinese dancer and choreographer I Ketut Marya (better known as I Mario), the creator of the kebyar duduk. ‘Kebyar’ in Balinese means ‘flash, burst’ and in music describes dynamic and sudden changes in volume and tempo. The name kebyar duduk is derived from the way in which the dance is performed: the dancer’s movements are almost all done sitting (duduk).

Kebyar dancer I Njong Njong, student of I Mario, circa 1935. Photo: KITLV

The dance is performed by a single male dancer, though his make-up makes him appear almost androgynous. He wears a 5-metre long piece of fabric (kamben), which is decorated with a gold-painted pattern known as a prada. His udeng, fan and other accessories are also golden and shimmering. During the performance, the dancer is mostly seated or half-seated, at times taking a cross-legged squatting position. At times, fan in hand, the dancer will spin around in circles without standing. His eyes are very active, conveying a wide range of emotions, which can range from coquettish to bashful to angry over the course of routine.

The first kebyar duduk was performed by I Mario in 1925. In creating the choreography and dance moves, I Mario was influenced by recent innovations in Balinese gamelan which allowed interpretation of the music as well as a fast tempo. This development, known as the gamelan gong kebyar, was manifested at first in legong dances (specifically, kebyar legong) from which I Mario drew his inspiration. He later developed the dance further, adding other instruments with inverted kettle gongs known as trompong; this form is known as kebyar trompong, though the original kebyar duduk remains I Mario’s most famous creation.

Original film footage
Unfortunately, there are very few images of I Mario himself. But recently I saw these digitally enhanced footage from a Balinese dance performance in 1940. The video shows I Mario dancing the kebyar duduk and teaching the dance moves to a young dancer.

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