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  History and Development

About 1,500 years ago, Indian influences began to make their way via Java to Bali. Thus, the characters of the Hindu Mahabharata and Ramayana epic poems are today the heroes and deities of Hindus Balinese dancing, and strong traces of 10th-century Tantric rites and magical sorcery as well as several Indian mudra are found in several Balinese dances.

Since the mass infusion of the Javano-Hindu culture into Bali that followed the Majapahit collapse, the Balinese have created their own dances and characters. The clowns (bebanyolan), for example, are a personification of the Balinese genius for assimilating new influences without destroying the integrity of the old.

The first commercial tourist performances were staged in 1928 at KPM's Bali Hotel in Denpasar and at the Kuta Beach Hotel. In the 1930s, with the decline of the aristocratic houses, dancing and musical instruments were taken over by the villages.

As a result, dancing became more dynamic, fast-moving and enthralling. Nurtured by the stability of the colonial period, musical activity in the villages flourished and dance clubs proliferated.

In the early 1930s, the Peliatan Legong troupe was the first Balinese dance company to perform abroad. They were feted in London and New York and played at the 1931 Exposition in Paris.

During the Japanese occupation (1942-1945), Bali became a rest and recuperation center for Japanese soldiers; the taste of the occupiers gave rise to such dances as the Prembon and Wiranata, still occasionally staged today.

Under the sponsorship of the nation-building Sukarno regime, the dancers and musicians of Ubud-Peliatan were again dispatched on a world circuit tour in the 1950s. Also in the 1950s, the same troupe costarred with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour in the very forgettable Hollywood film Road to Bali.

Starting in 1967, with Suharto's New Order regime reopening Bali's doors to foreigners, dances were staged at the newly inaugurated Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur.

By the late 1960s, the number of foreign visitors had reached 30,000 per annum, and Bali was adopted as a showcase for Indonesia's efforts to promote "cultural tourism."

This development of tourism undeniably stimulated performing arts-a cultural renaissance. Even at this relatively early date, Balinese dancing represented the island's trademark for outsiders and a yardstick of artistic activity for the Balinese themselves.

Ever since the late '70s, Balinese dance troupes have regularly made world tours, but the exoticism and spectacle of a Balinese performance is no longer in itself sufficient to guarantee spellbinding success with Western audiences, who have become increasingly sophisticated over the years.

According to the critics, a group of professionals on tour in 1989 was deemed "perfunctory and devoid of all feeling", falling far short of the intoxicating presentations of the 1930s and '50s.

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