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Dancing Out of Bali (Periplus Classics) [Paperback]

Sir David Attenborough , John Coast
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Periplus Editions/Berkeley Books Pte Ltd (30 Nov 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0794602614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0794602611
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.1 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,558,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Dancing Out of Bali ""It is Bali felt, understood, loved, communicated...Coast has a kind of word magic."" --New York Herald Tribune This book tells of a young Englishman, fresh out of a Japanese prison camp, and his Javanese wife, and how they leave Indonesia for the footlights of Broadway. This is a story of life, music, and dancing in Bali, with all the charm of the Balinese people. "Dancing out of Bali" is a trul... Full description

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to Bali 10 Jun 2004
Format:Paperback
Dancing Out of Bali
John Coast
Dancing out of Bali tells the story of how a young Englishman, John Coast, brought a troupe of 44 Balinese dancers and musicians from a remote village in Bali to London's West End and New York's Broadway. This was in 1952. It is the account of a man's burning ambition and a brilliant piece of anthropological, historical and cultural writing. And a great introduction to anyone visiting the island.
When he was a Japanese prisoner of war, John staged Indonesian dance performances in the prison camp to entertain fellow prisoners. After the war, he returned to England. Restless and bored, he left for Bali at the age of 34. Indonesia had just won independence from the Dutch after four long years of fighting. This was 1950.
I remember hearing about a white man, Tuan Coast, living in the area where I was going to school. I used to see him driving about in his battered jeep. There were not many jeeps, and even fewer foreigners in those days. I had no idea what he was doing. I now know he was fulfilling a lifetime's ambition.
There was turmoil at that time in Bali between those for and those against independence. On a visit to one of the Balinese princes, John once spotted a cocked revolver in a briefcase. The prince had supported Dutch colonialism. That was not popular with the independence fighters and they were the ones now in control. Even John slept with a gun under his pillow.
The leader of the freedom struggle was the charismatic, half-Balinese Sukarno. He became the country's first President. He had many political enemies. Sukarno supported John's mission and John thereby became embroiled in Indonesian politics.
He lived simply on not much money, like a real Balinese. He learnt the language and ran a small guesthouse.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to Bali 10 Jun 2004
By murni@murnis.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Dancing Out of Bali
John Coast
Dancing out of Bali tells the story of how a young Englishman, John Coast, brought a troupe of 44 Balinese dancers and musicians from a remote village in Bali to London's West End and New York's Broadway. This was in 1952. It is the account of a man's burning ambition and a brilliant piece of anthropological, historical and cultural writing. And a great introduction to anyone visiting the island.
When he was a Japanese prisoner of war, John staged Indonesian dance performances in the prison camp to entertain fellow prisoners. After the war, he returned to England. Restless and bored, he left for Bali at the age of 34. Indonesia had just won independence from the Dutch after four long years of fighting. This was 1950.
I remember hearing about a white man, Tuan Coast, living in the area where I was going to school. I used to see him driving about in his battered jeep. There were not many jeeps, and even fewer foreigners in those days. I had no idea what he was doing. I now know he was fulfilling a lifetime's ambition.
There was turmoil at that time in Bali between those for and those against independence. On a visit to one of the Balinese princes, John once spotted a cocked revolver in a briefcase. The prince had supported Dutch colonialism. That was not popular with the independence fighters and they were the ones now in control. Even John slept with a gun under his pillow.
The leader of the freedom struggle was the charismatic, half-Balinese Sukarno. He became the country's first President. He had many political enemies. Sukarno supported John's mission and John thereby became embroiled in Indonesian politics.
He lived simply on not much money, like a real Balinese. He learnt the language and ran a small guesthouse. He understood Bali's culture and beautifully describes Balinese ceremonies, dances and music. He did not shy away from controversies in the book, such as the role of the caste system in Bali. Many of the controversies are still hot topics.
John supported Indonesian independence. The new Indonesian government appointed him press agent and gave him the grand title of "Technical Expert on Cultural Relations and Information for Countries Abroad." He knew President Sukarno and describes what it was like to be with the great leader and attend his rousing speeches.
The last time the world had seen Balinese dance was in 1931 at the Colonial Exhibition in Paris. It was a great success. It was John's passion to make sure that the world would once again experience the breathtaking beauty of Balinese dance, costumes and music.
He revived the moribund Peliatan dance troupe and brought in new dancers. A 12-year-old Balinese girl named Raka, who was a beautiful legong dancer, became the star. He sought out the retired dancer and choreographer, Mario, and persuaded him to create a new dance especially for Raka. It's still danced today. It's the Bumblebee Dance.
The book is full of tales of persistence against the odds. It is impossible to imagine the difficulties in the early 1950s of arranging theatres, publicity, stage settings, tailors, hotel bookings, visa applications, flights and a million other things. There were no faxes, few telephones and no e-mail. The 44 dancers and musicians were not interested in any of this. The most important thing, as far as they were concerned, was a special dish made with rice and chillies, three times a day, every day. Also on the shopping list were clothes for 44 assorted Balinese who were not used to anything less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
The group, who had never left their remote village, departed Indonesia on 21 August 1952. It took 4 days to fly the 8,000 miles from Jakarta to London. They danced in London at The Winter Garden Theatre the day after they arrived. It was a full house. There were rave reviews. The leading dancers of Saddlers Wells came. Little Raka was a star overnight. She was invited to Covent Garden and photographed with Frederick Ashton and Margot Fonteyn. Mrs Churchill came to the show and wished them well.
In September, they flew to New York. The Fulton Theatre, Broadway, was sold out for seven solid nights. Dancers of Bali was the first Broadway hit of the season. Everyone courted them. Richard Rodgers, who put on South Pacific with the famous Bali Hai song, came to the show. Mrs Theodore Roosevelt invited them home to meet her grandchildren. Ed Sullivan televised parts of the Bumblebee Dance and the Monkey Dance to an audience of 30 million.
Then they were off to Boston, Philadelphia, Newark, Washington, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St Louis, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, where the legongs got seven curtain calls.
They met Bob Hope and Bing Crosby just after they completed the Road to Bali movie, and became instant friends. The girls met and adored Olivia de Havilland. They saw Fred Astaire and visited Walt Disney in the Disney Studios - he was busy designing Disneyland at the time.
It must have been overwhelming for my countrymen and a steep learning curve. One of the dancers said,
"Now that I know how movies are made, I dare go see them and enjoy them. I used to think that real events were filmed, and I always felt so sorry for the people who were shot or killed."
John's companion and my great friend, Laura Rosenberg, arranged for Periplus, the leading publishers on Indonesia, to reprint Dancing out of Bali to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the English edition. Sir David Attenborough, who worked with John, has written a perceptive introduction. There are recently discovered photographs and detailed captions.

I first met John and Laura in the early 1980s. John died in 1989. Laura still visits Bali. It is a great service to John's memory and Bali that this important piece of history is in print again.
I enthusiastically recommend the book.
Murni
Ubud, Bali
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK read 21 Jun 2010
By danny boy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In this book, John Coast wrote about his personal efforts on a project to bring out a Balinese dancing troupe to Europe and the States around the time of Indonesia's new found independence. However his description of specific people and events are quite revealing.

There are two negative aspects of this book which detract from its purpose to tell a simple but great story. Firstly, Coast may not have realized it but his overtly paternalistic writing depicts the Balinese and Javanese as lacking in exposure and maturity. His attempt to create Balinese conversational speak with the non-vulgar "Beh!" expletive before every sentence indirectly ridicules the Balinese capacity for dialogue. The Balinese are also depicted as evasive and incompetent. His examples of their non-commital statements, inability to finish building his house is given here. Similarly, the Javanese are depicted as manipulative, always ready to subvert Coast's intentions with their own agendas. On the other hand, the Americans and Europeans are depicted as internationally-savvy folks. This may be because by default, they are, being well-heeled tourists and playwrights who pass through Bali on a tropical holiday. However, when contrasted with the treatment given to the Indonesians, Coast has inadvertently created a colonial divide between the twain.

The second point is that the text meanders all over. There are truly great and interesting events which makes sense to be told here and some pedantic non-incidents which, in my opinion, should not have been included.

As it is, there are telling insights into Javanese and Balinese mores and customs. The best bits are the artistic events, involving some of the legendary figures in Balinese dancing and performance art, such as Mario I Ketut, who created the Kebyar Duduk dance, and Gusti Raka, the star of this book.

There are some great pictures and the story does paint a vivid impression of Bali during its tourism heyday and its time of great artistic achievement and innovation.

Note that in this edition, some pages have been transposed towards the end. This creates some ambiguity on the chronology of the events.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does Bali a real justice after too many other books on self-absorbed fluff 11 May 2008
By Indophile - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A delightful read of a place where I also live. When so many mediocre books have been coming out about the beauties of every kind of Indonesian art and cultural practice (written by people with no real idea of what their talking about or describing narcissistic New Age quests for paradise)--this book has something meaningful to say. I enjoyed it immensely. It's full of life.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sampih and other dancers from "A House in Bali" 31 Dec 2013
By Donald E. Gilliland - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you enjoyed reading "A House in Bali," Colin McPhee's classic account of Bali in the 1930s, you will also want to read this memoir by John Coast, detailing his own adventures in Bali in the early 1950s, culminating in a grand tour with the "Dancers of Bali" to Europe and the US.

Like McPhee's book, Coast's "Dancing Out of Bali" offers the reader an illuminating look at traditional life in Bali ... some sixty years ago. But there are other threads that connect the two books, namely the people involved in the local dance scene such as Sampih, Mario, and Ida Bagus Boda. Coast's accounts of his conversations and adventures with the locals --- especially those involved in the unique Balinese dance scene --- is both funny and fascinating. It's also interesting to read about the headaches, diplomacy, and politics involved in getting permission for the dancers to tour overseas, and then the extra maze of details involved with organizing the shows, plus housing, transporting, and feeding such a large troupe overseas. Once I started reading the book, it was one of those that was difficult to put down. Coast is both a descriptive writer and an empathetic one, and his love for Bali and its people is evident on every page.

I'd love to read more about John Coast's life after this books ends with the "Dancers of Bali" tour in 1953 (sadly, the lead male dancer, Sampih, was murdered back in Bali the following year). Apparently, this was only the beginning of a long and varied career for Coast in the entertainment business. According to the bio in the book, Coast went on to make films for BBC and became a leading figure in international performing arts as impresario and manager to many well-known artists, including Luciano Pavorotti. But these early years in Bali were clearly formative ones for him, and magical ones as well. A truly fascinating book.
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