Thu, 19 Jun 2003

Bali Arts Festival celebrates cultural wealth

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

The Bali Arts Festival was first conceived back in the late 1970s by then Bali governor Ida Bagus Mantra as a medium to nurture the development of an aesthetic community in Bali. Twenty-five years later, it has grown into one of the longest-running annual art events in the country, a striking testimony to the island's cultural wealth and diversity and a display of how the Balinese persevere their devotion to the arts.

"I believe the Bali Arts Festival is the only festival of its kind in Indonesia, or in the world for that matter, that has managed to reach its 25th year," said Prof. Dr. I Made Bandem.

During the past quarter century, the month-long festival has succeeded by providing a public stage for preserving numerous rare and ancient art forms, which otherwise might have become extinct. Moreover, it has also provided a wide opportunity for a new generation of Balinese youth to experience and comprehend the artistic legacy of their predecessors.

The festival's silver jubilee was opened last Saturday by President Megawati Soekarnoputri. Some 147 troupes and 8,000 artists and performers, including from various provinces in Indonesia and several foreign countries, will participate in the event.

Bandem, who played a critical role in conceptualizing the festival in its early years, proudly noted that the reason behind the festival's longevity and success was the strong support continuously given by the Balinese.

"In fact, this festival is the people's festival all the way, not the government's," he said.

By sending their finest artists and art troupes to perform at the festival, the Balinese have secured the continuation of the festive event. An ardent believer in the age-old concept of ngayah (devotional labor), most of the members of the Balinese art troupe would gladly accept the festival's invitation even though the financial rewards are small.

"The concept of ngayah can be traced back to the devotional nature of Balinese arts in ancient times, when artists dutifully presented arts as offerings to gods and commercialized arts was an alien phenomenon," a cultural observer, Mas Ruscitadewi, said.

For instance, during last year's festival a small village in Bangli sent its best troupe to perform six sacred Baris dances. The total number of its delegation, consisting of dancers, musicians, stage workers and village elders, reached nearly 100 people and the cost was way above the Rp 5 million allocated by the festival committee. The village's budget might be in the red because of the festival, but its dancers gave an excellent performance nonetheless.

"To some extent the festival committee has exploited this concept to generate support from the villages' artists," Ruscitadewi said.

This exploitation has to be stopped, Ruscitadewi added, particularly since the festival had received a generous amount of funding from the local administration. This year's funding has reached Rp 2.5 billion (US$304,880).

"This huge amount of money could surely be disbursed in a more generous manner to the villages' troupes and artists, who have wholeheartedly supported the festival all these years," she said.

Another important thing that should be addressed by the committee was the festival's role in helping the Balinese cope with the alluring temptations of the modern world.

"The festival serves as a cultural raft on which the Balinese can navigate the strong currents of globalization," Bandem said.

However, he reminded that the Balinese should not view traditional and modern culture as two contradictory and antagonizing entities. Instead, they should find a middle ground to harmonize and balance these cultures.

"The continuation of our culture depends on our ability to exercise the continuity-in-change principle, to cope and adapt with the challenges of modernity without losing our unique and distinctive cultural values," Bandem said.

Consequently, the festival should give wider space to contemporary arts and also provide support to experimental multicultural works.

The Balinese culture has been known for its ability to embrace foreign influences without compromising its own integrity. The colorful parade during the opening ceremony of the 25th Bali Arts Festival provided evidence of numerous foreign influences the Balinese culture had absorbed, from the Chinese mythical creature of Barong, the Muslim drums and western choreography.


The program for the 25th Bali Arts Festival:

Thursday June 19: * The contemporary puppet show of Wayang Cenk Blonk from Belayu village will be performed live on the Wantilan stage at 8 p.m.

Friday June 20: * Angklung Kebyar traditional orchestra from Kedis village on the Angsoka stage, at 10 a.m. * The passionate Joged Bumbung dance on the Ayodya stage, at 12:30 p.m. * Balinese pop song competition on the Ardha Chandra stage at 7 p.m. * Puppet show from the Brahmin house in Bukit on the Wantilan stage, at 8 p.m.

Saturday June 21: * Cultural symposium on the Wantilan stage, at 10 a.m. * Mask dance from the Tambahan Kelod village on the Ayodya stage, at 12:30 p.m. * Balinese pop song competition at 7 p.m.. * Traditional orchestra of gongs from Bantiran village on the Wantilan stage at 8 p.m. * East-West musical collaboration by Michael Tenzer in Nrtya Mandala-STSI, at 8 p.m.

Sunday June 22 * Balinese food competition on the ground level of Ksirarnawa's, at 10 a.m. * Traditional dance show by the Suar Dwi Stri troupe, at 10 a.m. * Traditional children's games on the Ayodya stage, at 11 a.m. * Traveling performance of Ngelawang in the Art Center's main yard, 12:30 p.m. * Contemporary dance on the Angsoka stage at 8 p.m. * Puppet show from Kuta village on the Wantilan stage at 8 p.m. * Prembon dance drama from Budakeling village on the Ayodya stage at 8 p.m. * Art performance by Japanese troupe Yamashiro Gumi at Natya Mandala at 8 p.m.

Monday June 23 * Janger dance of Semarapura on the Wantilan stage, at 10 a.m. * Genjek (drinking song) show from Jasri village on the Angsoka stage, at 12:30 p.m. * Dance show by the noble house of Abianbase on the Ayodya stage, at 8 p.m. * The Arja opera by the famous Coblong Pamor troupe on the Wantilan stage, at 8 p.m.. * Musical concert by the Awisada troupe on the Angsoka stage at 8 p.m.

Tuesday June 24 * The classical orchestra from the Pangkung village on the Angsoka stage, 10 a.m. * The Jegog Tingklik bamboo orchestra from Jimbarwana village on the Ayodya stage, at 12:30 p.m. * Traditional arts show from Minang, West Sumatra on the Angsoka stage, at 8 p.m.. * Classical Gambuh dance drama, performed by the Gelogor troupe on the Ayodya stage at 8 p.m.. * Contemporary dance by the Padneawara troupe on the Ksirarnawa stage at 8 p.m.

Wednesday June 25 * Classical orchestra of Gong Luang will be performing on the Wantilan stage at 10 a.m. * Dance performance by the Krisna troupe will be on the Angsoka stage at 12:30 p.m. * Gong Kebyar orchestra competition on the Ardha Chandra stage, at 8:30 p.m.

All performances will take place in the Werddhi Budaya Art Center compound on Jl. Nusa Indah, Denpasar.