Dancing Spirit
    Category: Improving Education By : Putri Minangsari Read : 1058 Date : Monday, March 02, 2015 - 20:23:00

    Courtesy of Agus Supriyatno

    Nobody knows how old Sang Ayu Ketut Muklen is exactly—not even the woman herself. She only remembers that her youngest child was born in the year of Indonesia’s independence, 1945. She remembers dancing in the 1930s as part of Peliatan’s Arja group under legendary musician and teacher, A.A. Gede (Gung Kak) Mandera. According to some family members she is over 90 years of age, although some of her students claim she is only 83.

    Respectively called guru Muklen, she is known as the one of the last surviving traditional legong teachers in Bali, hailing from a generation of revered maestros from Bali’s golden era of dance, before the rise of mass tourism. Given that legong is suspected of having originated in the mid-1800s, guru Muklen represents a living link back to some of the earliest generations to practice the legendary art form.

    She lives in the Balinese village of Titiapi, Pejeng, about seven kilometers east of Ubud. Her modest house looks like a regular Balinese village house, surrounded by mossy brick walls. A few chickens roamed around the alleyway out front. Yet dancers from across the country have made the pilgrimage to her home to meet the legendary teacher and dancer.

    On day of our visit, a group of dancers from Jakarta met a frail looking old woman sitting right outside the gateway to the house wearing a faded pink cotton shirt and a pale-colored batik sarong. Her great granddaughter. Desak Putu, sat next to her. Her cascading black hair contrasted with the older woman’s silvery-white strands secured into a bun. News that some Jakarta dancers wished to visit to learn Legong Kuntir reached guru Muklen via Desak Putu and excited her—so she wanted to greet us herself before anyone else.

    We were warmly welcomed inside, where we were led to walk a maze that connected one part of the traditional house to another. There was a sunny inner courtyard with the family temple built upon it, encircled by gnarled branches of blooming frangipani trees. We gathered on a square porch of the main part of the house, already carpeted and cleared out of furniture—obviously prepared for receiving guests. Somehow by then guru Muklen had lost a lot of the previously frail image. Broad-shouldered and slim, she stood straight, her eyes shone, studying each and every one of us, and she started to speak to us and ask us questions in Balinese—Desak Putu providing translation into Bahasa Indonesia.

    Remains of what was once a great beauty were still etched upon her face, but it was her sudden transformation that amazed us—from an old fragile-looking woman sitting idle and fanning herself on the floor to this legong dancer—strong arms widened to a perfect square, stretched high to frame her chest, with arched long fingers at the tips, highlighted with an unmistakable facial expression of a true dance artist—brows arched, eyes expressive.

    “See those curled Frangipani branches? Fingers must be shaped like them, opened, strong,” she says, as one of the first things to teach us about her Pejeng-style of dance. She did not wait to start to teach, she went ahead to show us some moves, corrected our posture and had us mimic her face. It was almost like she had been waiting to dance again for years.