Festival Celebrating Heroism: Denpasar, Bali

The 29th Bali Arts Festival, which will open on Saturday, June 16, is expected to be the grandest celebration of the Balinese people’s aesthetic spirit and creativity.

“The fact that the annual festival has entered its 29th year is a clear testimony of the Balinese people’s continuous and passionate romance with arts and culture,” Nyoman Nikanaya said.

As the head of the Bali Culture Office, Nikanaya is the top government official responsible for organizing and managing the month-long festival. It wasn’t an easy task, he conceded.

“When you have to organize hundreds of troupes from different areas and, at the same time, have to deal with various restrictions and limitations imposed by the government’s budget as well as a new, tighter policy on financial monitoring, well, trust me, it is definitely more difficult than what we had to do last year,” he said.

Lamentations aside, this year’s festival will feature a total of 187 events, including 110 performances, six parades and eight competitions, involving over 13,000 performers. It will also feature performances of visiting troupes from 14 provinces, including Jakarta, West Sumatra, East Kalimantan, South Sulawesi and Papua.

“It will be an interesting display of our country’s cultural richness and diversity,” Nikanaya said.

Moreover, 12 foreign troupes — representing Canada, China, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore and the United States — have confirmed their participation in the festival.

To finance the event, the Bali government has allocated Rp 3.8 billion (US$400,000), most of which — around Rp 2.9 billion — has been distributed to the participating troupes.

“Each sekeha (Balinese traditional arts troupe) on average received 6 million rupiah,” said Nikanaya. “For bigger, colossal performances like the Sendratari dance drama, we provided the troupe with a greater sum, somewhere between 30 to 50 million rupiah.”

The remainder of the funds was allocated toward financing the cultural parade for the opening ceremony, which is to take place at the Puputan Margarana square in Renon, South Denpasar.

The square’s towering Bajra Sandhi monument will be the principal backdrop for the parade, which will showcase the best performances from each regency on the island.

“President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and at least eight Cabinet ministers will be present during the ceremony,” Nikanaya said.

Besides officiating the opening of the festival, the president is also slated to launch the island’s new tourism campaign.

The cultural parade will be centered around the festival’s main theme of Sura Dhira Jayeng Rat, or celebration of heroic spirit.

“Generally, heroism is associated with armed struggles — wars and violent conflict. The festival will try to remind the public that there is another kind of hero — artists and performers,” Nikanaya stressed.

Arts and culture form the backbone of Balinese existence, identity and civilization. Without them, the Balinese people would simply cease to exist.

“It is the artists — the dancers, choreographers, musicians, singers, puppeteers — who nurture, preserve and safeguard our cultural heritage, and thus our existence. They are our heroes, Balinese heroes,” he said.

I Wayan Juniartha