What is legong?

An extremely basic definition of legong is a dance traditionally performed by pre-pubescent girls in the palaces of feudal Bali. The word legong has been interpreted differently by a number of academies and its origins are unclear.

One translation is that the word is made up of two words. Lega meaning happy and Ing wong meaning person –put them together and you get: “something that makes people happy”. Another one is oleg meaning dance and gong meaning gamelan, the music that accompanies the dance.

Interestingly enough, it is said that the original legong was danced by young boys in the courts and it was named Nandir. There is a possibility that legong is even older. The legong of Ketewel village in Gianyar traces its origins back to around 1825 when a prince named Dewa Karna Agung saw beautiful heavenly nymphs dancing the legong in a vision whilst in deep meditation in the local temple. Based on his vision dancers were sought to fit the part but as no girls in the village were beautiful enough to fit the part colourful masks were made to cover the faces.

What is certain, legong developed during feudal times and it is not a new dance. The tourism industry in Bali often uses the word legong to mean any sort of Balinese dance, including the more modern ones such as oleg and kebyar duduk. This lack of knowledge on the part of tourism operators only further leads to the demise of quality legong performances in their original form.

A classical legong performance should always be accompanied by a semara patangian (pelegongan) orchestra and not a gong kebyar or semarandhana as we often see these days. Using a modern, multi-functional gamelan set means the that true artistic spirit (with music and dance hand in hand) of the art-form is fading.

Unbeknownst to most people, including the Balinese, there are more than fifteen different stories in the legong repertoire with names such as Jobog (monkey kings), Kuntul (pied stilts) and Lasem (a Majapahit King).

Today the most common legong dance is Legong Keraton, so named by the Sultanate of Keraton Surakarta when the music and dance composer and genius I Wayan Lotring from Kuta was invited to perform in the 1920s with his pelegongan group in the keraton (palace) in Surakarta. Around a decade before, the Condong part of the performance was added by composer and musician, AA Peririt from Sukawati. A complete Legong Keraton performance is made up of more than ten parts. However, these are customarily cut for tourist performances; today it is very rare to see a complete Legong Keraton performance.

© 2012 Mekar Bhuana

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One Response to What is legong?

  1. Pingback: What is Gambuh Part II | Traveler Talk | Travel Forum

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