Ever heard of Topeng? For those who have I am suitably impressed, and those of haven’t I hadn’t either…until I went to Bali and then all of a sudden, I was wondering how I hadn’t heard of it.
Topeng is one of Bali’s most popular art forms and is deeply connected with the temple and its corresponding ceremonies. Like other Balinese performing arts, this too combines dance, music and theatre into one grand performance with the performer being wonderfully adept at all three.
Every Balinese artist is multi-talented and Topeng performances epitomize that. Topeng is performed with wooden masks covering the face entirely or down till the nose and the performers’ job is to make that mask come to life.
I attended a mask making workshop and the challenge according to our teacher, was not to learn the choreography but to establish a relationship with that mask, understand its story and realise that even though it was a wooden mask, when you wore it, it became your face and should come alive. When you watch a performance you’ll know what I mean.
The mask actually does come alive, it does seem to blink and after a point you can quite easily forget you’re watching a piece of wood tell you a story.
If you’re headed to Bali and are confused which of their multitude of performing arts you should witness, then let Topeng be the one. A number of performing arts companies put up performances for the benefit of travellers like you and me.
They are not hard to find especially in the cultural hub of Ubud. However if you want to see these performances in all their spiritual, ritualistic and original glory, go to a temple performance.
Get to know the locals (and trust me that is not hard in Bali) and request them let you come watch a performance in their village temple. Nothing beats watching this fabulous art form being performed in its purest form: as a sacred offering to the gods.
Written by: Ankita Mahabir
Photo Credits: Ainhoa Barriola
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