Reog Ponorogo | The Magical Dance


Reog is a traditional dance that become the main identity for Ponorogo Regency. Reog National Festival is held every years along the anniversary of Ponorogo regency and Grebeg Suro celebration. Reog dance is also staged full moon nightly in paseban, Ponorogo town square. Reog told about the struggle for a prince who will propose to a beautiful princess. Reog Ponorogo tells the story of a mythical battle between the King of Ponorogo and the magical lion-like creature called Singa Barong. Singa Barong is a large mask usually made of tiger's or leopard's head skin, upon the mask attached a large fan adorned with peafowl feathers. The Singa Barong mask was notoriously heavy, the dancer of Singo Barong bear the mask about 30 – 40 kg weight and supported by the strength of their teeth.

Culture and Traditions

The dance describe Klono Sewandono the king of Ponorogo on his journey to Kediri to seek the hands of Princess Songgo Langit. On his journey he was attacked by a vicious monster called Singa Barong, a mythical lion with peacock on its head. Historians trace the origin of Reog Ponorogo as the satire on the incompetence of Majapahit rulers during the end of the empire. It describe the innate Ponorogo liberty and its opposition on centralist Majapahit rule. The lion represent the king of Majapahit while the peafowl represent the queen, it was suggested that the king was incompetent and always being controlled by his queen. The beautiful, youthful and almost effeminate horsemen describe the Majapahit cavalry that have lost their manliness.

Reog Ponorogo dancers traditionally performed in a trance state. Reog Ponorogo displays the traditional Kejawen Javanese spiritual teaching. Next to physical requirement, the dancers—especially the Warok—required to follow strict rules, rituals and exercises, both physical and spiritual. One of the requirement is abstinence, warok is prohibited to indulged and involved in sexual relationship with women, yet having sex with boy age eight to fifteen is allowed. The boy lover is called Gemblak and usually kept by Warok in their household under the agreement and compensation to the boy's family. Warok can be married with a woman as their wive, but they may kept a gemblak too. This led to Warok-Gemblakan relationship that similar to pederastic tradition of ancient Greece. Anybody who is in touch with the traditional way of life in Ponorogo, knows that there are these older men called warok who, instead of having sex with their wives, have sex with younger boys. What Warok and Gemblak did is homosexual act, yet they never identify themself as homosexuals.
Today this Warok-Gemblakan practice is discouraged by local religious authorities and being shunned through public moral opposition. As the result today Reog Ponorogo performance rarely features Gemblak boys to performed as Jatil horsemen, their position were replaced by girls. Although today this practice might probably still survived and done in discreet manner.

Dance Performance

The leading figures in Reog Ponorogo performance includes:
  • Klono Sewandono, A men in regal attire wearing mask in proud and pompous dance, play the role as the King of Ponorogo
Klono Sewandono
  • Bujang Anom, rough youthful men wearing red mask, they performed acrobatic dances and sometimes also involved trance.
Bujang Anom

  • Jatil, the youthful handsome horsemen riding horses made of weaved bamboo, similar to Kuda Lumping dance. Today Jatil usually performed by female dancers.
Jathil
  • Warok, played as Singa Barong, the mythical creature. The one that allowed to performed this mask dance is called warok. A warok is the hororary title of local hero or strongman of the village that possessed both exceptional spiritual and phyisical strength. The dance itself is demonstration of phyisical strength of the dancers.
Warok
Reog Ponorogo usually consists of three sets of dances; each dance is performed by several dancers:
  • The first dance is the opening dance, performed by Bujang Anom, male dancers wearing black costumes. The costume describe rough men with intimidating moustache and other masculinity symbols.
  • The second dance is the Jaran Kepang dance performed by Jatil; it is originally performed by a gemblak, a handsome and youthful teenage boy wearing colourful costumes. Today the female dancers were usually played this role.
  • The third dance is the main attraction of the show; it is performed by all the Reog dancers. The warok as the main male dancer, wearing a large and heavy lion mask, dances in the centre of the stage while the other dancers dance around him. To demonstrate the warok's extraordinary strength Jatil or female dancers riding on top of lion mask and being carried around.

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