The energetic sounds of Balinese gamelan could be heard from afar. It was 9 p.m., the time for the Janger troupe to take the stage in Pesanggaran village, Banyuwangi, East Java.
After doing their makeup in a makeshift space, a group of young female dancers from Kharisma Dewata troupe, all dressed in traditional Balinese costume, performed a series of dances from the “island of the Gods”, followed by several dances from Banyuwangi. The head of the troupe introduced each performer and provided a short summary of the play — Sabdo Palon Diwisuda on this night. It was then that the female performers show their vocal and dance skills, with members of the audience requesting popular Javanese songs from Banyuwangi, pantun [poetic quatrains] and dances. They are the real stars of the show, known for their flirtatious and sensual movements.
Originating in Banyuwangi, Janger is a public performance similar to Ketoprak and Ludruk theater in Java, combining theater, dance, music and comedy. It brings together three cultures — Javanese, Balinese and Banyuwangi — as well as Islam.
Performances begin after the Isha night-time prayer and last until dawn, with a duration of six to eight hours.
The content of a performance is based on the request of whoever hires them, or is taken from the troupe’s own story repertoire. Among legendary tales that are often performed are Minakjinggo Mati, Damarulan Ngenger and Damarulan Ngarit.
For while the costumes, dramatic movements and dance are from Bali, and other parts of the dancing is from Banyuwangi, the story and language is Javanese. Refined Javanese is used for dramatic scenes. The music is an acculturation of Balinese
gamelan and rebana (traditional tambourines), and today there is also use of popular dangdut and disco music.
The Janger troupe can number up to 50 members, with payment ranging from Rp 100,000 to Rp 300,000 each. The cost of a performance is from Rp 7 million to Rp 8 million, although today the troupes are losing out to more modern artistic performances.
Despite declining demand, the performers will continue to dance, sing and tell stories, because the Janger tradition is part of their soul.