The Spirit of Legong
A Legong Rhapsody, a Dance Through Time.. Quite often, though not always, I begin an article with some key definitions. Definitions provided by the many dictionaries available to us for free online. It may seem superfluous, but in fact I think quite the contrary. People say many things (and its surprising just how often) people are uncertain of words and meanings. They have an idea but often it is not precise and not for certain.
legong dance \ ˈlāˌgäŋ \ plural -s
a delicate and graceful Balinese drama dance performed by two young girls in sumptuous costumes
- an effusively enthusiastic or ecstatic expression of feeling.”rhapsodies of praise”
- (in ancient Greece) an epic poem, or part of it, of a suitable length for recitation at one time.
By beginning with the definition, we set a guiding hand for our discussion. In Fine Art, understanding the meaning of something is just as important as appreciating the visual presentation. Through art, we are adding and creating layers of meaning in our work. So, understanding first the definition of the topic is a good way to approach the works.
Popular subject matter does not mean it is understood.
We have a series of works by ManButur Suantara that singularly looks at one particular dance. The Legong Dance of Bali, ‘Tari Legong Bali’. Balinese culture is full of beauty in so many respects. Wherever you turn you will find something rich and sumptuous in colour and also mystery. Its rituals and ceremony are profoundly deep. It draws the attention of the world. This is not the first time the dances of Bali is the object of art. Images depicting our culture is saturating mainstream media due to its power of influence towards a profitable industry. Tourism.
On the positive side this means the beauty of Balinese culture is recognised by many. I mention this because I wish to draw attention to something that might be overlooked. There is something really special to reflect on here that would be remiss not to point out. Purely for our artistic discussion. As a series in photography there are interesting aspects that we can learn from.
The first is the subject. The Legong dance is believed to have originated in the 19th century. Apparently for the purpose of royal entertainment. Others believe that the dance originally began with the sanghyang dedari. This is a ceremony involving voluntary possession of two little girls by beneficent spirits. The dance itself is characterised by complex finger movements and footwork. With expressive gestures and dramatic control of facial expressions.
I asked ManButur why he chose for this series, this particular dance. He explained that the complex movements and dynamic variations of the Legong makes it ideal for capturing long exposures. The speed of the dance changes throughout the dance and this impact is significant when you take long exposures.
My memories of the Legong dance.. growing up I see a lot of paintings of a dancer in costume. I tried to create a photograph of the dance that is like a painting.. but still has the spirit and movement of the dance..Nyoman ‘Butur’ Suantara
The Significance of Time..
When you think about it, a dance cannot exist in a second. No dance can take form without time. And the dance is the subject of this series. Time is a crucial element in any ‘dance’ for it to be realised. When you break down a dance or ‘tari’ it is a catalogue of forms connected by movement. The way that it comes together is a physical, living work of art created by the human body through movement. And the Legong Dance specifically is defined as ‘a delicate and beautiful drama dance’. It is truly beautiful.
Human beings are instinctively drawn to create this form of art across the world. The first ‘dance’ recorded may have been 5000 to 9000 years ago. Throughout our history we continue to show our need to be creative. We have a need to express ourselves and in so many different ways. When words cannot, when a picture does not, we use our bodies to create beauty. The dance. Not like a painting, hanging still on the wall frozen. That is a painting of a dancer..not the dance.
Technical mastery results in beautiful artistry..
ManButur had hoped to capture this dance like the age old paintings of his memories. They were paintings of dancers in a static pose. He wished to create photographs like that of the painting but one that captured the spirit of the dance. The Spirit of Legong, a dance of Bali.
Without technical acumen, this does not happen. At least no so beautifully. His images capture the rhythm, they capture the graceful movements, the dramatic and controlled facial expressions. They somehow show the varying tempos of the Legong. You can feel the vital energy and movement. The musicality of it. To have details so beautifully rendered whilst positioned within each composition so beautifully is something we can truly appreciate.
There are many photographs that capture the rich opulent beauty Balinese traditional dances. However, this series takes us beyond that. You can pause and breathe them in. You can sense the energy and the fluidity. It succeeds in capturing the details pertinent to the definition of the Legong. The qualities that are important in this particular dance.
This is why this series is so alive. It is so aptly titled ‘Legong Rhapsody’. Because a rhapsody is ‘an effusively enthusiastic or ecstatic expression of feeling’.
A Note on Art History
In 1912 Cubist artist Marcel Duchamp painted ‘Nude Descending a Staircase No:2′. Duchamp artist was breaking away from his cubist style and depicted his subject in motion. This is the first time the concept of continuous motion and the 4th dimension (time) ws represented in paintings. Due to this element of motion and time, introduced in this painting by Duchamp, this was categorised a Cubo-Futurist. Photography had begun to make its indelible mark in the world of art.
Duchamp was influenced greatly by the works of photographers like Eadward Muybridge. Muybridge was one of the earliest pioneers in studying motion. Much of the development into motion pictures was due to his research and studies.
Image to the left: Galloping horse, animated using photos by Muybridge
The Study of Motion
The study of motion at the turn of the 20th century was pioneering work. It changed the landscape of visual expression. Artists were excited to explore these fascinating revelations in their paintings and a movement known as the ‘Futurism‘ was formed.
And here we are, full circle. With just over a hundred years since the work of Muybridge into motion capture. Our world now in art and photography is so very different from then. Yet, we are still connected. We have the same hunger to explore. Our desire to understand and celebrate art and beauty connects us.
The Spirit of Creativity Connects Us
For me, I do not think it is hard to believe that the spirit of creativity is one that abides in our collective consciousness. Art captures our spirit. Because our minds and feelings, with its questions and visions are somehow in perfect union. Whether for a hundred years or a thousand years apart, we are connected to those minds and hearts that were inspired to create, to question and to express.
In the island of Bali a hundred years later, the Legong Dance or Tari Legong is captured in a series of photographs depicting the motion of the dance. Its motion is the ‘Spirit of Legong’ because no Dance can exist without motion. The works and explorations made by photographers and artists a hundred years ago such as the of Duchamp and Muybridge echoes through these images by ManButur Suantara through the mysterious ambience of the Spirit of Legong.
The enchanting and masterful renditions of Legong Rhapsody is available as a collection of Limited Editions of 25. Each print is an Archival Giclee Prints which are signed by ManButur Suantara.
Issued here and certified by Sawidji Gallery. They come with a certificate of authentication.
A little about Sawidji Studio Art and our vision,
“The art in photography is not just about taking a picture. Firstly, it is not just about the technical side of photography. It is also about putting spirit and feeling in the image that you create.
And when you do this, your image can carry a different story in it. Here at ManButur and Sawidji, together we are finding a new driving inspiration to give our fine art photography life. ”