Bali is known for several prominent dances, and there are several other lesser known styles of dance as well, but all tell a story and to a greater or lesser degree, involve dramatic portrayal of a character in the story, sometimes while in a trance.
More than just an entertaining performance, the Barong & Rangda dance is a colorful and lively drama. The barong, a strange lion-shaggy dog creature that is operated much like the two-man circus horse, is the protector of a village and personifies good. Rangda is the evil widow witch. There are also barong supporters, men flailing dagger-like krises. Although the barong is playful and jovial, once Rangda makes her attacking appearance, he becomes the protector and battles, along with the retaliating kris-armed men. Rangda puts the men in a trance and they turn the daggers on themselves. The barong's magical powers see to it that the men are not harmed in the process. Amid the crashing din of the gamelan accompaniment, good and evil battle. The barong triumphs and Rangda finally retreats in defeat.
The Legong dance is considered to be the most graceful of the Balinese dances. There are several kinds of Legong dances, but the most commonly performed is the Legong Kraton (Palace Legong). In this dance there are three performers, two legongs and a condong, who is the attendant of the royal legongs. The condong introduces the dance and then exits the stage. Then enters the two legongs who are tightly clad in golden brocade and elaborately made up. They dance in exact formation to gamelan accompaniment. The performance ends when the condong enters with golden wings, as a bird of bad fortune, signifying that the king will die in battle.
For tourists, the best known Balinese dance is the Kecak. This is an performance that tells a story of intrigue and romance from the Ramayana. The a cappella chorus of bare-chested men wearing black-and-white checkered sarongs and hibiscus flowers behind their ears chant the distinctive "chak-chak-chak" with intensity, which is distinctive of this dance. These men constitute an army of monkeys. Both men and women participate in this dance, playing, among others, the characters of Prince Rama, his abducted wife Sita, and the evil King Lanka. As in all Balinese performances, in the end, good triumphs over evil.
The Ramayana story is also performed in several dances of Central Java, the most well known is the Ramayana Ballet, which is performed in an open-air theater from May through October. The Wayang Topeng is a dance drama where the characters use masks, dating back to the Majapahit kingdom. The masked characters are identifiable in the same manner as they are in Wayang Kulit puppet performances. The refined and elongated features denote nobility, whereas the exaggerated and grotesque characteristics indicate the vulgar players.
The Topeng dance of Bali, however, is quite different. The word topeng means "pressed against the face," hence the masks. The Balinese Topeng masks are brightly painted, exaggerated and expressive human faces. The variety of characters indicated by the masks are acted out by a single performer. The stories are often drawn from the chronicles of Balinese history, but comedy, as well as topics dealing with current social issues may be mixed into the performance. The dancer usually chants and speaks only in the Balinese language.