In 1952, Ni-Gusti Raka came to New York as a member of the Island of Bali Dancers, the first company of Balinese dancers ever to perform in the western hemisphere. The group toured the United States for about four months, appearing in several major cities. Their tour was sponsored by a governmental arts agency of the then newly independent Republic of Indonesia in an effort to introduce westerners to Indonesian culture.
Though she was only about ten years old, Raka was the troupe’s lead dancer. As such, she performed one of the central dances of the company’s show, the Legong, a traditional dance known in Balinese legend as the dance of heavenly spirits. Like many other Balinese dances, the Legong is a highly stylized dramatic narrative performed with the accompaniment of a gamelan, a Balinese orchestra consisting of flutes, strings, and various percussion instruments.
The Legong’s three performers, all young girls, enact an ancient tale about a young princess who is kidnapped by a king and locked away. The king chooses to go to war with the princess’s brother rather than set her free, but as he rides into battle a bird comes to him and predicts his death. The ornately costumed dancers perform the story through elaborate movements and facial expressions. In addition to dancing this and other traditional pieces, during her appearances with the Island of Bali Dancers Raka performed a new dance, the Tumulingan, translated as the Bumblebee, which had been created specifically for her.
Though Balinese dancers are generally young girls—especially Legong dancers who often cease performing in their early teens—Raka returned to the United States to perform in 1972.