The living tradition of Balinese performing art encompasses various forms of dance theatre utilizing masks.3 One of the most important forms is Topeng, a masked dance theatre acted by actor-dancers wearing masks.4 Despite the increasing influence of modern entertainment on Bali, Topeng continues to have special place in various aspects of the Hindu Bali cultural tradition.
Up to the present Topeng is a major theatrical form in Bali. The Balinese stages Topeng with its different variants in association with religious, social, and cultural activities. Topeng performances, both in the rural and urban community, continue to draw a large crowd. This is mainly because Topeng always presents and speaks about values and spirits relevance to the contemporary Balinese society.
The central concern of this paper is the existence of Topeng in contemporary Bali. The primary purposes of this paper are to demonstrate the important functions of Topeng in various aspects of the religious, social, and cultural activities of the Hindu-Bali people, to explain its aesthetic principles, and to show change in the performance emphases. By investigating Topeng, based Topeng performances observed during the last ten years in different places in Bali, this paper aims to show how this traditional art form copes with the ever-changing culture of Bali.
Historical and Cultural Background
Performance using mask is an old tradition in Bali. Many speculate that masked performance has evolved in Bali over many centuries and it is rooted in the indigenous belief system of the Balinese.
Indigenous belief systems. Masked performance in Bali is strongly rooted in the indigenous belief system integrating animism and ancestor worshiping, which had evolved long time before the arrival of Hinduism on the island. With such a belief system, from the ancient time to the present, the Balinese developed rituals utilizing images in the form of statues, puppets, and masks. The main purpose of the ritual is to gather the power and souls of the living things in the nature, and to invite ancestral spirits of the upper world to descend to the middle world. The Balinese strongly believe that with the protection of these souls and spirits from the invisible world (niskala) they will be able to live peacefully in this real world (sekala).
Bebetin Manuscript. One of the earliest records on masked performance is the Bebetin manuscript dating back to the Caka year 818 or 896 A.D. Among the important terms found in the manuscript, which suggest performances using masks, are partapukan, atapukan, or hanapuk (tapuk means “to cover” or mask). Most scholars and experts in Balinese performing arts believe that mask performances have well developed at that time. However, no one knows whether the mask performances mentioned in the manuscript are close to the Topeng masked dance theatre flourishes in Bali today.
Babad Dalem Manuscript. The oldest Topeng masks in Bali, dating from the fifteenth to sixteenth century, are kept as sacred object at the Pura Penataran Topeng temple of Blahbatuh in Gianyar district. According to Babad Dalem manuscript, these masks were spoils of war when the Minister Ularan was in his mission, under the order of King Waturenggong of Bali, to Blambangan in East Java to attack King Juru. After killing the King through a deadly fight, the Minister took, among which, a box of Javanese masks to Bali and present them to King Waturenggong. Later Balinese artists used these masks as model.
Community Theatre. Over times, Topeng has developed into a form of community theatre. Loved nearly by all in the community, the Topeng is produced and performed by the populous, and more importantly, it is intended to entertain all in the community.
It is important to mention that up the present Topeng still a male dominated theatre.5 Although the enacted story may well include female figures, these characters are usually revered to. Therefore, it is rare principal female roles appear in a Topeng play.6
Topeng’s audience is comprised of all ages; children, adults, and elderly people, from all levels of society; upper, middle, and lower class people. Although the performers are exclusively male, Topeng plays appeal to everyone in the society. There are parts of the Topeng performance, which appeals the children, and there are many sections in the play intended to entertain the adults. Moreover, the theme of the play deals with social, cultural, and political issues for all classes in the community.
The Variants of Balinese Topeng
Presently Topeng has developed into four variants: Topeng Pajegan, Topeng Panca, Topeng Prembon, and Topeng Bondres. These variants evolved during different periods of the Balinese history; the first and the second evolved between the seventeenth to nineteenth century, and the last two variants were created during the modern era (twentieth century).
Topeng Pajegan, also known as Topeng Sidakarya, is a masked dance theatre performed by a solo actor-dancer.7 The Balinese regard Topeng Pajegan as the oldest variant of Topeng, developed around the seventeenth century during the reign of King Waturenggong’s grandson, King Demade, in Gelgel-Klungkung. The King and his Prime Minister, I Gusti Pering Jelantik, created a dance drama using the masks brought home from the palace of Blambangan in East Java during the invasion of the Blambangan Kingdom.
In order to portray the different characters in the play, the dancer changes his mask and headdress every time he appears on stage without changing his costume. He moves, sings and speaks according to the facial expressions of the mask. He himself also tells the story and describes the dramatic action of the play. One of the most important characters on Topeng Pajegan is Sidhakarya which means “to finish the task”, to signify that the ritual is completed. A white mask with narrow slits for eyes, buckteeth, and sporting wild white hair, he is indeed frightening. His movements are sparse; he hops around and laughs eerily. Frequently he snatches up a young child in the audience and gives him or her Chinese coins with square holes in the center as a symbol of prosperity.
Due to the complex dramatic role the actor must perform, and the priestly duty he must take, reputed and matured actors with priestly knowledgeare more preferred to perform Topeng Pajegan. Or, the actor must have undergone a purification ceremony called mawinten. It is also common for a real temple priest, or a shadow puppet master (dalang), performs this Topeng.
Topeng Panca, literary means Topeng theatre normally acted by five actors, is a derivative of the Topeng Pajegan. This Topeng variant first appeared in around the eighteenth century, if not later. Because its performamce features more dancers, Topeng Panca is also called Topeng Gede (large Topeng performance) which means its performance requires a longer time to complete. Topeng Panca began to reach its popularity around the 1930s, and it is still a popular dramatic form in Bali today.8
Unlike Topeng Pajegan, the requirement to Topeng Panca actor-dancers is relatively lighter. In the performance of Topeng Panca the dancers divide the dramatic roles in the play among them; the dancers are assigned to act as the king, minister, buffoon, clown, etc. Those who are strong dancer with limited skills in speaking dialogue, or story telling, may take the roles with less or no dialogue. However, the roles, such as the buffoons and the clowns, who narrate and describe the story line, while making contemporary jokes, must be played by more matured and experienced actors.
Topeng Prembon is essentially a mixed masked dance theatre featuring characters with and without mask. A derivative of the Topeng Panca, combining elements of Topeng and the opera dance-drama of Bali--Arja, this dance theatre emerged in 1942 through a collaborative production of a group of artists from Gianyar and Badung regencies. The creation of this dramatic form was strongly stimulated by the growing awareness of the local artists on their new provincial and national roles during the revolution of Indonesia. With the inclusion of these Arja roles, Topeng Prembon becomes a theatre of male and female artists although male actors still dominate the performance. 9
Topeng Bondres is a masked dance theatre dominated by comic characters, such as, buffoon and clowns, and its play contains endless amount of spontaneous humor. Created around the early 1980s, the Topeng Bondres, the youngest in the Topeng genre, is a flexible dramatic form, in that it does not rely on a formal performance structure. It tells no literary story and its entire performance is filled with humor. The play may begin with a dramatic scene from a classical story, but then it digresses into spontaneous critics and comments on current issues.
During the last five years, Topeng Bondres begins to include female Arja roles of the similar character types (comic characters). With the inclusion of these roles, Topeng Bondres has become a shorter version of Topeng Prembon.
Topeng is a complex theatrical form integrating mask, dancing and acting, story telling, gamelan music, and offerings. Among these, mask is the most important elements of Topeng, and dancing with mask is the essence of this theatrical form.
Mask. The masks or tapel used in Topeng usually portray human faces; as one can see through their size, complexion, and more importantly the type of face. The masks are handmade of wood, painted with Balinese pigments and accentuated with hair and jewelry. The dancers hold their masks in place using a rubber strap.10 Prior to the performance, the actors adorn their masks with gegirang leaves and flowers to enliven the performance.
There are normally eight to twelve different masks used in a Topeng performance. Based on their size and physical forms, these masks can be classified into three groups: full mask or tapel bungkulanwhich covers the entire face; half mask or tapel sibakan which coversfrom the forehead down to the upper lip; and mini mask of tapel kepehan which covering only the forehead and nose, or nose and jaw. The full masks are for topeng keras (the strong character) topeng tua (the old man), and topeng dalem (the refined king); the half masks are used by the buffoon or panasar and some of the clowns (bondres); and mini masks are used only by the clown.11
Dance. The dance movements utilized in Topeng are based on the classical Balinese dance drama--Gambuh. Topeng dance, in general, consists of four main movement categories: agem, tandang, tangkep, and tangkis. Agem are non-locomotive actions and tandang are locomotive. Together, these two aspects make up the main choreography. Tangkis are traditional phrases, which connect agem and tandang movements, and tangkep are facial expression. Since there are many speaking sections in Topeng performances, in-place movements and hand gestures dominate Topeng choreography. The actors move creatively, either leading or following the gamelan music, to suit the expressions of the masks, which at first appear static and neutral yet once animated, take on a multitude of emotions.
Although in some parts of Topeng performance the actors perform a rather fixed choreography, in most parts of the play they improvise their dance. The gamelan music always responsive to the dancer’s action, in fact, many dance movements cue the changing tempo and dynamic of the gamelan music. This signaling system between dancer and musicians, through the drummers, allows the actors to shorten or lengthen their dance sequences depending upon their artistic impulse and the response to the audience.
In Topeng, as in most Balinese theatre, dance is one means of defining the social status, gender, and persona of the characters for the audience. The principals, representing the aristocracy, dance formally, utilizing more stylized and structured movements. To maintain their sense of formality, they reinforce their spoken lines with dance. In contrast, the servants and clowns who represent people of the lower class utilize rather informal, spontaneous movements, and their dances are relatively simple.
Story. The main resource of Topeng stories is Balinese chronicles (babad) traditionallywritten on palm leaf manuscripts or lontar. The stories may depict, for example, the journey of the Javanese priests and noblemen to Bali from Java between the ninth and the seventeenth century; or the historical journey of Balinese ancestors took place later, the founding of many Hindu-Bali temples around the island; the inauguration of the local villages; the marriage of the local kings and their royal family members; and the role or emergence of clans in Bali. Among the most important literature containing Topeng stories are: Babad Dalem or the Chronicle of the Kings which tell of the glorified history of the ancestral heritage of the high cast on the island; Kidung Pamancangah which describes the family line of Balinese kings; Babad Blahbatuh, Babad Wug Gianyar, Babad Mengwi, to mention only a few. Whatever the story is about, there will always be scenes depicting present day people of Bali speaking about very contemporary issues and telling jokes despite the fact that the drama is set in the eighteenth century, or even earlier. Impressed by Topeng’s mixed plot, some dramatists claim that Topeng bridges the past and the present, the distant and the immediate.12
Topeng stories are always heroic and didactic. They are heroic in that they tell of many great battles involving local kings, clan leaders, and other heroes. They are didactic since Topeng stories convey philosophical concepts, such as the duality (rwa bhineda) in life involving two conflicting forces: good (dharma) and evil (adharma). The stories usually end with the victory of the good side. Topeng stories integrate balanced elements of both serious drama and comedy making the performance neither too serious nor frivolous.
Gamelan music. The music accompaniment for Topeng in most cases is gamelan Gong Kebyar.13 This is one of the largest gamelan ensembles on the island, employing between 30 to 35 musicians, and the most popular ensemble throughout Bali.
This five-tone pelog scale gamelan is composed of eight different kinds of instrument most of which are percussion. Among important instruments in the ensemble are the vertical gongs (gong ageng, kempul), flat gong (bebende), knobbed gongs (reyong, trompong, kajar, kempli) gangsa metallophones (jegogan, jublag, ugal, penyacah, pemade, kantil), drums (kendang), cymbals (cengceng), bamboo flutes (suling), and rebab. Using these instruments, the ensemble produces a ‘bursting’ sound (the meaning of the word kebyar) rich, dynamic, and complex music.14
Costumes. The costumes for Topeng are based on the male characters of the classical Gambuh dance drama. Known as the sesaputan, the basic costume is composed of many pieces of cloth worn together in many layers. Among the most important items of the Topeng costumes are: an ornamented split robe (saput) covering the body (from chest to knee), a pair of white trausers (jaler) and a white waist cloth (kamen), a belt, a dark jacket, a pair of leggings, a decorative back panel, decorative collar, a pair of long aprons, a pair of epaulettes. Each dancer wears a dagger or kris across his back.
The headdress used in Topeng encompasses the crown-like head-dress or gelungan used by the principals, a wig or sobrat, and head cloth or udeng for servants and clowns. Some clowns may also use hats, caps, or even army beret.15
Offerings. The offerings for Topeng performance is quite elaborate. Topeng dancers believe that their masks posses soul and spirit of the respective characters. They always treat the mask with high respect by always keeping them in an appropriate or special place, and make regular offerings to them, at home and at the performance site, before and after the performance.
There are at least two sets of offerings usually required in every performance: an offering for the head-dresses (banten gelungan), and an offering for the musical instruments (banten gamelan). Used before and after the performance, these offerings can serve to consecrate the stage. Topeng dancers also use offerings to spiritually invoke blessing form gods and deities, and to request permission from spirits who occupy the performance area. The offerings done at the beginning of the performance are to invoke and invite the divine spirits of the art to descend and embody the materials of the art. At the end of the performance, offering is used to send the spirits back to the upper world.
The important purpose for conducting rituals is to attain taksu, the spiritual power for stage appearance. The presence of taksu will not only alter the artistic quality of the performance, it will also transform the actor into the character he or she plays. Taksu transforms all “raw” materials, the mise-en-scenes, of the drama into a “live” art production. It is through the presence of taksu that the performance can be “elevated” above a mundane performance. While there is no set formula for attaining taksu, rituals are certainly one of the most essential means for Balinese artists to invoke and awaken their taksu.
Topeng in Performance
Topeng is essentially a theatre performed by actor-dancers wearing masks. The artistic beauty of its performance lies in, and very much determined by, the ability of its actor-dancers to give breath and soul to their masks by utilizing the right movements, voice, actions, and energy. Making the mask come to life in fact the key to the success of the Topeng performance. Topeng dancers usually operate this principle not by simple putting their masks on but through a process of transformation they become the characters represented by the masks. In a sense, the actor-dancers “enter the world and life” of the masks.
Broadly speaking, the formal structure of Topeng performance, as operated in Topeng Pajegan, Topeng Panca, and Topeng Prembon, encompasses two parts: the introduction or panglembar, and the enactment of the story or lampahan. Topeng dancers consider the introduction as a place for them to demonstrate his virtuosity through pure dance movements.
Introduction. Traditionally the first part of Topeng performance features two main characters; the strong or topeng keras and the old man or topeng tua, both of which wear full masks and speak no dialogue. The first character appears with a red or brown face denoting strength and courage. He wears elaborate headdress of different shapes. The second character appears with a white or light creme face, with white wig. Their dancing around the stage space symbolizes the spreading of energy to the entire performance space.
Enacting the Story. The second part of Topeng performance begins with the appearance of the clown servants, the panasar, roles of two brothers who wear half-masks, who speaks mainly Balinese, who are at once the storytellers (panasar-s). The penasar pave the way for the entrance of the king, and more importantly to set the flow of the entire play. The older brother (panasar kelihan)begins by singing his tale behind the dance curtain. Stepping into the stage arena, he regales the audience with glorious facts about his Lord and his kingdom, and his joy at being able to work for the king. Only then he drops hints about which king, what century and which place he is talking about. He then calls for his younger brother, (panasar cenikan), whom he always blames as being invariably late and lazy, despite the fact that it is the younger brother who philosophizes and educates the audience.
These two traversearound the stage space discussing the issues of the day, always with humor that leaves the audience chortling. It is their responsibility to keep the story line going as well as integrate modern references into the ancient stories (such as too much development or the annoyance of so many hand phones ringing while they are trying to tell the story). Thus, the audience can appreciate both worlds at the same time. This way, the actor-dancers impart important religious and moral issues without sounding too pedantic.
The two panasar bring up the problem or issue at hand: a princess has been kidnapped, land has been stolen, a large ceremony is to be held. Then the music suddenly changes and the two go into supplicating postures, sitting on the floor cross-legged with their hands set in respective poses.
The Dalem (king) then appears between the two halves of the curtain; his flowered headdress quivering. His movements are dainty and refined and his mask a light cream color with mother-of-pearl teeth shining below his trimmed moustache. He sits on the top of a chair back to show his status. He then approaches his servants and tells them through gestures what needs to be done. One panasar speaks for the king (as it is difficult to speak through a full mask, and also unseemly for such a refined character), and the other simultaneously translates into colloquial Balinese so the audience can understand. The King then takes his leave.
Then the two brothers decide that they must gather their forces to assist them, whether it is an army or the people of the banjar (hamlet). Here the clowns (bondres) come in, with multiple layers of teeth, stutters, gimpy legs, deaf ears, monkey faces and so on. They may represent either the followers of the enemy of the king. The actor who plays the panasar stays on stage while his younger brother and one of the actors who played an introductory role, or even the actor who was the king, changes masks and headgear backstage and comes back on and engages in a dialogue. The brilliance of Balinese improvisation really shines here as the actors banter back and forth on issues of the day, contemporizing events that happened hundreds of years ago and making fun of everybody from priests to cabdrivers to tourists!
In Bali, nearly all performing arts are presented following the tripartite concept—wali, bebali, and balih-balihan.16 In brief, the wali arts include all sacred and religious art forms which are traditionally performed as an integral part of the ceremonies. Bebali arts consist of all ceremonial arts, usually dramatic in nature, which are staged to complete the ceremonies. Balih-balihan arts are composed of non-religious or secular arts that are performed as public entertainment, almost without time and space restriction.
Based on this concept, Topeng Pajegan performance falls into wali and bebali arts (Topeng for ritual) traditionally performed for myriad of ritual and religious ceremonies. Topeng Panca, Topeng Prembon, and Topeng Bondres belong to balih-balihan arts mainly staged for a secular entertainment, sometimes in conjunction to religious activities.
Topeng for Ritual. As wali or bebali arts, the performance of Topeng Pajegan normally takes place inside the temple, near the sanctuary, and within the area of the ceremony, along with Wayang Lemah (ritual Shadow Play), and during the same time the priest conducting the ritual. The arts serve as an obligatory part of the ritual, and the performances are intended to please the invisible audience; the gods and deities temporarily reside inside the temple; and deified ancestors.
In the Hindu Bali culture, sacred religious includes different kinds of rituals and ceremonies collectively called as Panca Yadnya. The five main ceremonies are dewa yadnya (ritual to the gods and deities), resi yadnya (ritual to the priests), bhuta yadnya (sacrifice to bhuta kala), pitrayadnya (rituals to human souls), and manusa yadnya (rites of passages). Among the most important Panca Yadnya ceremonies to which Topeng performance is associated with are: temple ceremony (odalan), cremation (ngaben), weddings, tooth filing, and other rite of passages. Due to the importance of the Topeng to these ceremonies, many people in considered a ritual to be incomplete without Topeng performance.
Topeng for Entertainment. As balih-balihan arts, the performance of the Topeng Panca, Topeng Prembon, and Topeng Bondres traditionally takes place just outside the temple, or inside a village hall, inside a theatre, other stage in hotels, and at other places. As secular art forms, although their performance may be also in conjunction with the religious ceremonies listed above, the primary goal of the performance is to entertain the human audience. Since the performance will take place in a secular space, outside the temple, the public can attend the performance.
During the rite of passage ceremonies, such as wedding receptions, tooth filing, etc., Topeng Bondres may be also performed in a house yard. In the modern time, it is very common for a Balinese family to have brief Topeng Bondres performance before inviting the guests to eat. The performance, with less than an hour long, is mainly to entertain the guests.
Topeng performance may be included in many secular events. Among these events are: village fair or rame-rame which may be organized after harvests, or during the inauguration of a new building and other public facilities; national fair or pasar amal, a regional or national celebration sponsored by the government like Indonesian Independence Day; and the Annual Bali Arts Festival, Pesta Kesenian Bali.
Despite the rapid change of Balinese culture, Topeng continues to have special place and it is still highly valued by the Balinese. This is partly because Topeng performance is required in myriad of the Hindu-Bali rituals, and Topeng performance appeals to all social statuses in Balinese society.
If Topeng will face some obstacles, one of them will be the decreasing use of the Balinese language (bahasa Bali). During the 1970s, after the removal of the Bahasa Bali program from the core curriculum of school programs, Balinese students have been encouraged to speak more Bahasa Indonesia at school and most classes are taught in this language, rather than Balinese. Meanwhile, people of the middle class tend to prefer speaking in Bahasa Indonesia even at home with their families and relatives. The decline of Balinese language is actually a threat to all forms of traditional Balinese performing arts.
In response to the changing artistic taste of the modern Balinese audience, due to the influence of the modern culture on Bali, Topeng dancers continue to introduce new ideas into their performance by selectively adopting elements of contemporary cultures without neglecting the Topeng’s aesthetic principles. This has been one and the most effective strategies of Balinese artists in perpetuating their traditional performing arts amidst the globalization process of Bali.
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Bandem, I Made; Murgiyanto, Sal
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I Wayan Dibia
I Wayan Dibia, born in Singapadu village of Gianyar, is an artists and scholar specializing in Balinese performing arts. Trained in a family of artists, he has studied various forms of classical Balinese dances from different masters on the island. From 1970, Dibia started to experiment with elements from traditional Balinese performing arts to create new works for a contemporary audience. He has choreographed numerous new dances and dramas, and his innovative art works have gained high recognition and have been featured in many important events and art festivals in Indonesia as well as overseas. He has written a number of books and articles, and he has toured to Asia, Europe, Australia, and The United States of America. He joined the faculty of dance at the State College of Indonesian Arts (STSI) Denpasar in 1974, received grant from the Asian Cultural Council New York in 1982 to do his MA in Dance, and from The Fulbright Hays in 1987 to pursuit his Ph.D. in Southeast Asian Performing Arts, both at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). From 1997 to 2001, he served as the Director of STSI Denpasar. While teaching at STSI Denpasar, Mr. Dibia has recently opened a house for performing art creativity, GEOKS, in his home village.
1A Paper presented for Seminar and Workshop on The Andong Masks Festival, Soul - South Korea, 25-30 September 2008.
3 A word in Balinese language for masks is tapel (from tup to mean cover) literally mean “to close or press against the face.”
4 In addition to Topeng masked dance theatre, masks are also used in other performing art forms, such as Barong, Wayang Wong, Telek and Jauk,Legong, Calonarang, Kecak, and the modern Balinese dance drama known as Sendratari.
5The most recent development is TopengSakti, an all women’s group, which performed at the 2001 Magdelena Festival in Denmark. The musicians were women from the Mekar Ayu gamelan group in Pengosekan, Ubud and the dancers Ni Nyoman Candri and Cokorda Istri Agung from Singapadu and Cristina Formaggia from Italy.
6 In the past, several experiments on Topeng performance involving both female characters acted by female performers have been conducted in Bali, but yet so far, the result have been not too satisfying.
7 Now one can see a performance of Topeng Sidhakarya at religious rites done by two to three dancers. This is because nowadays it is becoming more common for Balinese dancers to share the performing opportunity for ritual as part of their religious duty.
8 Lately in Bali, it is common for a Topeng Panca performance involving only three or four dancers. Once a while, the same form may be acted by seven performers.
9Many in Bali consider Prembon an important concept for creativity, especially in Balinese performing arts, for it allows artists with different artistic skill to interact and to share their talent.
10 The first masks found in Bali had mouthpieces (canggem) that the dancer bit on to hold the mask in place. Some speculates this is because the masks found in Bali reminds us a lot with both Javanese This type of mask is still used in Ketewel village in the sacred Legong Topeng dance.
11 To make a sacred Topeng mask, Topeng maker must first go to a special place, sometimes to a graveyard where the pule (Alstonia scholaris) tree grows. Offerings are made and permission requested to take wood from the trunk of the tree.
12 See Jhon Emigh. Masked Performance: The Play of Self and Other in Ritual and Theatre (Philadelphia: University of Penssylvania Press), pp. 105-156.
13 In the old days more likely two ancient gamelan, Gong Kembang Kirang and Gong Gede, were used. Nowadays, while some villages may use gamelan Gong Luang, Semar Pagulingan, or even gamelan Angklung, most villages use gamelan Gong Kebyar.
I Wayan Dibia. Selayang Pandang Seni Pertunjukan Bali (Bandung: Masyarakat Seni Pertunjukan, 1999, p.127.
15The most commonly crown-like headdresses used in the Topeng are called cecandian and keklopingan for ministers and guards, and lelungsiran for the king.
16The tripartite concept—wali, bebali, and balih-balihan was a result of the 1971 art conference sponsored by the Bali Provincial Government. But one of the best work explaining this concept is Kaja and Kelod Balinese Dance in Transition (1981), by I Made Bandem and Frederik Eugene deBoer.