Kecak (pronounced [ˈketʃaʔ], alternate spellings: Ketjak and Ketjack) is a form of Balinese dance and music drama that was developed in the 1930s in Bali, Indonesia. Since its creation, it has been performed primarily by men, with the very first women's kecak group starting in 2006.
Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, the piece, performed by a circle of at least 150 performers wearing checked cloth around their waists, percussively chanting "cak" and moving their hands and arms, depicts a battle from the Ramayana. The monkey-like Vanara helped Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. Kecak has roots in sanghyang, a trance-inducing exorcism dance.
Kecak was originally a trance ritual accompanied by male chorus. In the 1930s, Walter Spies, a German painter and musician, became deeply interested in the ritual while living in Bali. He adapted it as a drama, based on the Hindu Ramayana and including dance, intended for performance before Western tourist audiences.
This is an example of what James Clifford describes as part of the "modern art-culture system" in which, "the West or the central power adopts, transforms, and consumes non-Western or peripheral cultural elements, while making 'art,' which was once embedded in the culture as a whole, into a separate entity." Spies worked with Wayan Limbak, who popularized the dance by arranging for performances by Balinese groups touring internationally. These tours have helped make the kecak internationally known.
I Wayan Dibia, a performer, choreographer, and scholar, suggests, by contrast, that the Balinese were already developing this form when Spies arrived on the island. For example, during the 1920s, the well-known dancer I Limbak had incorporated Baris movements into the cak leader role. "Spies liked this innovation," and he suggested that Limbak "devise a spectacle based on the Ramayana," accompanied by cak chorus rather than gamelan, as would have been usual.
A Kecak-style dance and chant can be seen in the fantasy portion of Tarsem Singh's film The Fall (2006).
John Adams' opera, A Flowering Tree (2006), features Kumudha and the beggar minstrels in Act II, which are based on the Kecak. (per Cincinnati Opera pre-performance interview with the composer, 30 June 2011.)
Ketjak is a book-length poem by Ron Silliman published in 1978 and reprinted in The Age of Huts (2007), in which the author gives the title "Ketjak" to a vast ongoing cycle of works which includes Tjanting (1980) and The Alphabet (2008).
An extended Kecak chant scene is featured at the end of Emmanuelle 2.
^Shinji Yamashita. "Review: Michel Picard, Bali: Cultural Tourism and Touristic Culture", Indonesia, Vol. 67, (Apr., 1999), pp. 177–182. Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University.
^David W. Hughes, "Review: Kecak: The Vocal Chant of Bali, by I Wayan Dibia", British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol. 6, (1997), pp. 195–195. British Forum for Ethnomusicology.
^Review: [untitled]. Author(s): David Harnish. Reviewed work(s): Kecak from Bali by David Lewiston.Ethnomusicology, Vol. 35, No. 2, (Spring – Summer, 1991), pp. 302–304. Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of Society for Ethnomusicology