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Legong Dance

Legong 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. Girls from the age of five aspire to be selected to represent the community as Legong dancers.
The most popular of Legongs is the Legong Kraton — ‘Legong of the Palace’. Formerly, the dance was patronized by local kings and held in a residence of the royal family of the village.
Dancers were recruited from the aptest and prettiest children. Today, the trained dancers are still very young; a girl of fourteen approaches retirement as a Legong performer. The highly stylized Legong Kraton enacts a drama of a most purified and abstract kind. The story is performed by three dancers: a female attendant of the court and two identically dressed legongs who adopt the roles of royal persons. The suggestive themes of the magnificent gamelan orchestra and the minds of the audience conjure up imaginary changes of scene. The story derives from the history of East Java in the 12th and 13th centuries. A king finds the maiden Rangkesari lost in the forest. He takes her home and locks her in a house of stone. Rangkesari’s brother, the Prince of Daha, learns of her captivity and threatens war unless she is set free.
Rangkesari begs her captor to avoid war by giving her liberty, but the king prefers to fight. On his way to battle, he is met by a bird of ill omen that predicts his death. In the fight that ensues he is killed. The dance dramatizes the farewells of the King as he departs for the battlefield and his ominous encounter with the bird. The tiny dancers glitter and dazzle. Bound from head to foot in gold brocade, it is a wonder the legongs can move with such fervent agitation. The dancers flow from one identity into the next without disrupting the harmony of the dance. They may enter as the double image of one character, their movements marked by tight synchronization. Then they may split, each enacting a separate role, and come together again. In a love scene in which they rub noses, for example, the King takes leave of Rangkesari. She repels his advances by beating him with her fan, and he departs in anger, soon to perish on the battlefield.

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