Antonin Artaud led a theater movement in the 30’s and 40’s that argued for a drama that depended less on text and more on mysterious primal expressions of sound, movement, and light. He pointed toward Balinese dancers as the idea. When I was first introduced to his ideas in the 60’s I had only the vaguest ideas what he meant about Balinese dancers. He’s talking about renditions of the Ramayana stories which have become almost a cottage industry here in Indonesia. Last night we even witnessed one in which women and children played more than traditional roles. Hero Rama played by a woman? Not to mention his hunters charged with chasing down the demon who kidnaps Rama’s true love, Sita? Not to also mention the black monkeys played by little boys. Not to mention the entire gamelon/Rindik/drums orchestra consisting of women. There were three golden deer instead of one, two played by 14ish girls, one by a 12ish one. A very tasty treat.
The Artaud Balinese references? The play is acted with formulated gestures, all precisely executed right down to the eyeballs (literally, the eyes must slide up, down, right left at certain moments), and there are no spoken words. A narrator may tell the story that’s being portrayed, but the actors say nothing. It helps that the audience knows the story as well as, say, the Greeks knew the legend of Oedipus. It’s a nice idea, Artaud, and this is wonderful theater, but what would the world of stage be without Shakespeare’s text?
Anyway, aside from history and scholarly debates, you can catch one of these performances in at least a couple of places here in the village/district of Ubud, and I assume various other places on this emerald/enchanted isle.