Drama Mask

Dramas masks are used in four traditional Balinese Dramas and processions: the Topeng, which enacts stories from the times of the old Balinese kingdoms and establishes a link with the ancestor world; the Barong, which involves giant puppets and animals that serve as protective spirits enabling a village to ward off evil; the Wayang Wong, which performs the Ramayana, a great Hindu epic dramatizing the triumph of virtue over vice; and the Calonarang, which challenges local witches by appealing for the support and protection of Durga, the Queen of Witches and Goddess of Death. A chapter in this book is devoted to each of these dramas and a final chapter describes the mask-carving process.

The three types of masks used in these dramas depict humans, animals, and demons. Human-looking masks can be full face or three-quarter face, or can have a movable jaw. They are expected to resemble certain character types rather than specific people. Heroes and heroines are stereotypically handsome, with refined features matched by the movements of the dancers. The coarser a character is, the more the features are exaggerated: eyes bulge, mouths and noses thicken, and teeth are fangs. Color also reveals character.

Balinese masks and dramas have been influenced by other Asian cultures and reveal the relationships to the art forms of other countries. Javanese mask, whereas Barong Brutuk masks, from the aboriginal Balinese village of Trunyan, are similar to masks found on the Indonesian islands of Sulawesi and Sumatra. Demon masks bear a strong similarity to their counterparts in Nepal and Sri Lanka and to the Nagales masks of Central and South America. Balinese drama is similar in style to Italian commedia dell'arte, and the half masks of the Balinese comic characters are like traditional commedia masks. The animistic Barong masks resemble the old sacred animal masks worn during certain rituals by Bhutanese monks, and the most important mask in Bali, the Barong, Ket, is believed to be based on the Chinese dragon.

Animal masks are mythological rather than realistic. Conscious of the distinction between humans and animals, the Balinese emphasize the difference by designing animal masks that seem closely related to demons, even for magically powerful and god-related animals like the heroic and delightful Hanuman, the white monkey of the Ramayana epic. Birds, cows, and even frogs have gaping mouths and horrendous protruding fangs. Protuberant eyes with wide black pupils stare from golden iries in masks that can hardly be called attractive, despite their elaborate crowns and fancy earrings.

Perhaps the most exciting masks are those of the witches and what are called low spirits. The low spirits, who can be troublesome if not appeased, are sometimes described by Westerners as demons. This is inaccurate, since low spirits also have the power to perform good deeds and provide protection. The Balinese do not separate the supernatural from the natural. The spirit world is a living force that must be recognized and appeased through rituals and offerings. Because the Balinese grant the masks powers that befit their roles in society, the masks of witches and low spirits are the largest and most grotesque of all traditional masks. The imposing wigs on most of these masks magnify the head and stature of the wearer. A basket device attached inside the construction hold it to the wearer's head. Since the arrangement is relatively unstable, dancers often hold their unwieldy masks while they perform.

The Balinese classify the masks of heroes, clowns, and demons according to their qualities. The dashing heroes (often incarnations of gods), beautiful queens, and virtuous kings are described as "halus", a Balinese word meaning "sweet," 'gentle," and "refined." Demons, animals, and brutish types, including antagonist kings, are referred to as "kras", or "strong," "rough," and "forceful." There are certain distinctions in between, which usually encompass the clowns and servants.

Possessing exaggerated expressions and dehumanized features, the clowns and rustics of Balinese drama, known as "bondres" characters, are at once grotesque, humorous, and intriguing. Portrayed as being of low caste, they manifest a plethora of deformities. Some theorists believe that the harelips, crossed eyes, hunchbacks, bask teeth, and other disfigurements mirror the genetic defects found among the people of Bali. To understand how the Balinese audience can find humor in the misery of deaf, blind, lisping, and keep in mind the Balinese custom of turning horror into humor and laughing at distress, in the early twentieth century, Western vaudeville, minstrel, and variety shows sometimes exploited physical deformities, and even racial characteristics, for humor.

The favorite clown in Balinese mask performances are two brothers who translate the archaic Sanskrit text of the traditional drama into Balinese vernacular spiced with bawdy dialogue and physical comedy. The brothers are called the Penasar, from "dasar', the people who tell the root of the story or "the basic ones." The older is the hefy, pompous Penasar kelihan; the younger is the smart-mouthed Penasar Cenikan. They move across the boundaries of time, from the ancient past to the present, to convey the plot of the drama. The Penasar, who are said to represent common people and appear in most mask dramas, serve as attendants to the central characters. After their master enters the drama, the brothers are referred to as "parekan", meaning servants to a high-caste person. As clowns, they have no social status and are free to travel between the world of the audience and the formalized drama on the stage. In he tradition of all good fools, they act as social gadflies who gently lampoon human foibles.


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