After a quick shower, we followed the path from our bungalow through a private back gate that opens up to the lotus ponds of the acclaimed Café Lotus next door for our reservations for dinner and a gamelan performance. The Café Lotus has to be one of the most remarkable restaurants on the island, not only for its delightful menu of traditional and Western fare, but also for its unrivaled ambience and views. The restaurant has two dining areas: the main area up front with standard chairs and tables and an elongated raised platform with low tables on bamboo mats and cushions that run along one of the lotus ponds.
I ordered the Bebek Betutu described on the menu as a half duckling basted with fragrant herbs wrapped in banana leaves and cooked underground for 12 hours. It was fragrant indeed and oh so tender; a result of its rather unique cooking method. Rina chose the Be Pasih Goa Lawah, fish fillet marinated in turmeric, lemongrass, tamarind, garlic, shallots, chili, kaffir lime leaves and garlic.
The facade of the stunning Saraswati temple is used as a backdrop and open stage for the regular performances held almost nightly. Diners have the option of watching across the ponds while they dine, or having an early pre-show dinner, then transferring to the seats set up in front of the stage for a close-up view. We chose the latter. I'm so glad we did. It would have been a shame to miss out on the choreographed movement of eyeballs, fingertips, heads and toes.
After polishing off a shared dessert of plantains in palm sugar and toasted coconut, we made our way to our seats. It was a spellbinding show on a spectacular night marred only by nasty flesh-eating mosquitoes. While hopelessly trying to swat them away, I watched the stories unfold before me in music and dance.
For 50,000 rupiah (less than $6.00), we were treated to seven acts by the Chandra Wirabhuana Gamelan Orchestra. The first part was an overture performed solely by the gamelan that was divided into two groups on either side of the stage. The piece was called Cerukcuk Wana; the delicate percussion sounds mimic those of the melodious Cerukcuk bird song.
The basic gamelan orchestra is made up of a series of xylophone-like instruments known as gangsa and brass gongs. Both are struck with a mallet to produce deep resounding notes. Typically used in a gamelan are bamboo flutes, cymbals and double-sided drums or kendang that are beaten with the palm of the hand or fingers.
For the second act, the first of many female dancers came out from behind the shadows. She played Chandra Wangi, a pure teenage girl formed in the image of the Goddess of the Moon who brings peace and harmony to all. Her costume and headpiece were adorned with gilded ornaments. She moved with precision to the tempo of the music, jerking her head this way and that; her eyes darting left and right were full of expression, no words necessary. Her hands gestured meaningfully. She was mesmerizing; I almost forgot to take photos.
In Bali, dancing is not only done for one's own pleasure or for entertainment; it is also a means to commune with the gods. The different dances are categorized into secular or sacred, with the latter reserved for mystical rites. What we witnessed on this night were secular dances such as the mask dance and the tari satya brasta; a battle scene based on an excerpt from the Mahabharata .
Rina and I agreed that most impressive was the third act, the kebyar terompong, whose star performer stunned us as he executed the dance with impeccably choreographed eye-hand-neck movements, while he played the terompong. On his face was the unmistakable range of expressions from curious shyness to pain to sadness and coy flirtation. This was human coordination at its best!
We continued to watch as more stories unfolded. By the time the show came to an end an hour later, we were lulled into a completely restful state. I could see the faint light in our bedroom from where we sat; I wanted nothing more at that moment than to be tucked in and cruising through dreamland.