Dancing Out of Bali
By John Coast
dancing-book I think most visitors see several Balinese dances during their stay in Bali and many of them see the Bumblebee Dance. The stars are two delightful bumblebees. The lady bumblebee has long wings, which she stretches out in all directions. The dance was choreographed by Mario, the famous dancer from Tabanan, for John Coast’s tour of Europe and America in 1952.
The show caused a sensation and so did the dance. The lady bee flits and flirts from flower to flower. A young male bee appears and they dance around each other and finally lightly embrace. It is very touching and was the first time that a woman had lifted her arms above her shoulders. It raised eyebrows. The dance is now firmly established in the repertoire and just called ‘Oleg’.
The show featured other dances and music too. The group, who had never been out of their remote village of Peliatan, near Ubud, left Indonesia on 21 August 1952 and flew the 8,000 miles from Jakarta to London in four days.
The next day they danced at The Winter Garden Theatre in London’s West End. It was a full house and there were rave reviews. Little 12-year old Raka, the lady bumblebee, was a star overnight.
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In September, they flew on to New York. The Fulton Theatre, Broadway, was sold out for seven straight nights. Everyone courted them. Richard Rodgers, who put on South Pacific with its famous Bali Hai song, came to the show.
Ed Sullivan televised parts of the Bumblebee Dance and the Monkey Dance to an audience of 30 million. The American comic actor Joe E. Lewis commented to Ed Sullivan, ‘I think they were on something.’ Then they were off to Boston, Philadelphia, Newark, Washington, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St Louis, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
After the tour John Coast wrote ‘Dancing Out of Bali’, which tells the story of how he brought the troupe of 44 dancers and musicians from Peliatan to London’s West End and New York’s Broadway. I remember hearing about a white man in the Fifties, Tuan Coast, living in the area where I was going to school, near Denpasar. I used to see him driving about in his battered old jeep. I had no idea what he was doing, but I do now.
Every person I know likes the book. It is a great introduction to anyone visiting the island and describes many aspects of Bali’s culture and beautifully depicts Balinese ceremonies, dances and music.
Laura Rosenberg, John’s companion and my great friend, arranged for ‘Dancing Out of Bali’ to be reprinted in 2004 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the English edition. She has now persuaded World Arbiter to reissue the original Columbia Records LP ‘Dancers and Musicians of Bali’.
You can read the book while listening to the music.
For a review of the cd see Dancers and Musicians of Bali on the cd review page.