Balinese ‘Dancing’ Jesus

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I have long been eager to get acquainted with nonwestern Christian art, especially artworks representing Christ and Bible themes by Asian artists. So, I got very excited when I discovered the Asian Christian Arts Association or the ACAA, established in Bali, where Christian artists and theologians from all over Asia meet, exchange ideas and inspire each other. Nyoman Darsane, a fascinating Balinese artist who depicts Biblical characters as traditional Balinese dancers, employing various Balinese symbolisms in his images, was one of the first Asian ‘Christian’ artists to attract my attention. Then, I came across Victoria Jones’ post at The Jesus Question about him. Darsane is an incredibly talented painter who masterfully combines the joy of the Gospel with his Balinese culture, and Victoria’s post is thoroughly researched, offers excellent commentary and insights and does him justice!

The Jesus Question

Balinese artist Nyoman Darsane was born in 1939 and raised as a Hindu.  At age seventeen, he became a Christian and as a result was ostracized by his family and village community.  But because he so persistently strove, through his art, to give Christianity a Balinese shape, they eventually decided to accept him back in.  They saw that he still loved and respected the culture; he was still “one of them,” even though his religious beliefs took a different turn.  Does he feel that, as a Balinese Christian, his identity is divided, that he cannot fully embrace both at once?  Not at all.  “Bali is my body; Christ is my life,” he says.  In other words, Jesus Christ is his all, but can he not pray to and worship and express his love for Jesus Christ in a Balinese fashion?  And can he not picture Jesus as a fellow Balinese…

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O Isaiah, Dance for Joy

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O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.
Composer: John Tavener

Meant to convey a series of verbal and musical impressions of a village wedding in Greece, Tavener’s music is set to a mix of texts from Angelos Sikelianos’ poem” Village Wedding” interspersed with many repetitions of the line “O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child” taken from the Orthodox wedding service.

Text, by Angelos Sikelianos, translated from Greek by Philip Sherrard and Edmund Keeley

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To my beloved, who breaks my heart.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

Do you listen within your veil, silent, God-quickened heart?
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

O depth and stillness of virginity! Follow your man.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

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Let them throw white rice like a spring shower.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

Like a spring cloud, let her now tenderly spread her bridal veil.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

O the peace of the bridal dawn.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

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And he listens, and he listens.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.And, as in front of a fount of crystal water,
Let the girls pass in front of the bride,
Observing her look from the corner of their eyes,
As though balancing pitchers on their heads.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.O, like Leto giving birth to Apollo,
Do you listen within your veil?
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

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When standing, her hands slight and pale,
(Let them throw white rice…)
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.She clasped the ethereal palm tree on Delos,
Like a spring cloud.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.May you her mystical image…
O the peace of the bridal dawn.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

Held by your husband’s strong heart,
And he listens.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

Bring into the world with a single cry your child,
As the poet brings forth his creation.
O Isaiah, dance for joy, for the Virgin is with child.

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*The Dance of Isaiah is one of the integral parts of the Wedding/Crowning Service (Sacrament of Holy Matrimony) in the Orthodox Church (Byzantine Rite) and involves a the triple procession around a center table. The priest, holding the Gospel or Blessing Cross and the clasped hands of the groom and bride, and followed by the best man (or woman) who holds the newlyweds’ crowns above their heads, and the bridesmaids holding the lit white candles, walk three counterclockwise turns around the table in a celebratory “dance”. Each of the three turns is accompanied by each of the three hymns, which return once more to the theme of martyrdom and union with Christ. These are the hymns that, since ancient times, the Church has used to emphasize God’s blessings, and the same ones sung at ordinations to ecclesiastical orders. They signify that this couple has been set apart from the mundane world to live a life in Christ:

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Rejoice, O Isaiah! The Virgin is with child,

And shall bear a son Emmanuel,

Who is both God and Man,

And Orient is His Name,

Whom magnifying we call, the Virgin blessed.

O Holy Martyrs,

who fought the good fight and have received your crowns,

Entreat ye the Lord,

That He will have mercy on our souls.

Glory to Thee, O Christ God.

The Apostles boast,

The Martyrs Joy,

whose preaching was the Consubstantial Trinity.

*

To watch how the celebrant actually leads the marriage couple and the witnesses around the wedding table three times at the Orthodox Wedding/Crowning Service (Byzantine Rite), while chanting this religious hymn,  go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyTQnV5W24A

Wedding Photographs: Wedding with Carved Crowns
Source: Orthodox Arts Journal