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(9/6/2010) On August 29th the biggest indoor extravaganza ever staged in Bali premiered at the Bali Theatre located at the Bali Taman Safari and Marine Park. That date marked both the inauguration of a permanent cultural theatrical extravaganza and the opening of Indonesia's largest state-of-the-art performance venue.
"Bali Agung - The Legend of Balinese Goddesses" features a cast of 150 people, 40 puppets and more than 30 animals, including ten elephants – all sharing a huge 60 by 40 meter stage.
The story tells the true tale of a 12th century Balinese king who marries a Chinese princess and fathers a child with another woman, regarded as Bali's Goddess of fertility.
The Executive Director of the production, Hans Manansang said: "Our vision was to create a story of epic proportions that captures the true essence of Bali, presenting an evolution in the perspective of Balinese culture. The show is also part of our commitment to the conservation of Bali's unique culture."
"Bali Agung" is the result of a unique cultural collaboration between talented Balinese artists and a world-renowned production and creative team from Australia. The Director, Composer and Production Designer bring to the production impressive theatrical credentials that include large scale celebration productions at the Sydney and Doha Olympics, and the Asian Games. A long-standing professional admiration between the show's creative director, Peter J. Wilson, and the show's artistic director Balinese puppet-master, I Made Sidia, have resulted in a piece of theatre that is destined to form a permanent part of Bali's cultural legacy.
One of Australia's most experienced musicians and composer, Chong Lim, who served as composer and musical director for the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Opening Ceremony, wrote the orchestral score for "Bali Agung".
A 30-piece live on-stage orchestra of Balinese musicians playing traditional instruments performs in collaboration with a digital sound track composed by Lim and specially recorded by 50 musicians from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
The resulting musical accompaniment has been described as a mesmerizing beautiful blending of Asian and western styles. Or, in the words of one musician attending a pre-show rehearsal, the Bali production is "pure magic."
Theatrical History in the Making
The "Bali Agung" artistic director is internationally acclaimed Bali puppet-master, I Made Sidia, who insists that the production is the most elaborate cultural show ever presented in Indonesia.
"I've seen many theatrical shows around the world and most of them have been great, but this one will stand out both in terms of concept and philosophy," he said.
Sidia explained that the story presented in the show stems from an historical account of how the island's mesmerizing beauty and its hardworking people were already busily creating a world class destination nearly 900 years ago.
In those days the island's surplus farming and spice production attracted foreign traders, who included Chinese merchants, who brought metal, porcelain and ceramic goods that were much admired by the Balinese.
The resulting relationships were intensive and extensive, introducing many elements of Chinese culture that have become permanently ingrained parts of modern Hindu-Balinese culture. Replicas of holed Chinese coins are found at temples across the island, barong dances are performed in almost every village and dragon-like effigies are now common sights in many Bali artistic performances and architectural accents.
According to Sidia, this harmonious assimilation of two different Asian cultures is a central theme of the show that is staged four times each week in the ultra-modern mega-theatre, the first venue of its kind built in Bali to cater for international audiences.
Cultural Tourism at its Best
Those who were privileged to view the intense rehearsals leading up to the premiere performance affirmed that the modern and dramatic stage effects add magic to the show without in any way diminishing from the long-standing and deeply cherished cultural aspects of the story.
Two friends sharing a common admiration for Bali's world-renowned culture provided the initial impetus for "Bali Agung." Creative director Peter Wilson's long-time collaboration with one of Bali's most acclaimed puppet artists, I Made Sidia, dates from previous projects in several overseas locations, and paved the way to the current monumental production that now makes its home at the Bali Theatre.
Wilson's career spans more than 35 years in the Australian entertainment industry.
He has been responsible for successfully staging major shows including the "Nature" sequence at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games and the Doha Asian Games in 2006. Other projects have seem Peter working in Malaysia, Japan, China, Europe, and the United States of America.
Commenting on the successful East-West symbiosis of "Bali Agung," Wilson lauds the international team of creative and performing talent dedicated to making sure that western influence would enliven the production and support the culturally unique Balinese lively arts.
"This enhances the production without downplaying the talents and historic story-telling ability offered by the Balinese. The cultural heritage remains intact," Peter emphasized.
"This philosophy is shared by everyone working on the production," he said.
Production designer Richard Jeziorny studied at the National Institute for Dramatic Arts (NIDA) before launching an award-winning career that has taken him to many different countries.
Before coming to work on "Bali Agung", Richard designed for many well known productions including the ballet "Alice in Wonderland"; the musicals "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Bye Bye Birdie"; and "The Boy Friend" ; as well as the operas "Don Giovanni" and "La Boheme." He has won Green Room Awards for his design work on "Sunset Boulevard" and "The Threepenny Opera."
In the current production, Richards's work brief included costume design. And, with a cast of more than 150 actors, this was no easy task. "We had to authentically dress kings, princesses, goddesses, sea captains and priests as they looked hundreds of years ago and even the peasants at village level," he said.
"Fortunately Bali artists have preserved a lot of this history which has given us a great starting point in our design concepts," he added.
Singapore-based animal trainer, Richard Sam Pillai, brings to the Bali project twenty-seven years of working with animals for motion pictures and live shows in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Oman and Vietnam.
The "Bali Agung" production presented him with the specific challenge of "persuading" exotic birds, camels, elephants, tigers and a menagerie of farm animals to share a stage with 150 performers, moving sets and a 30-piece orchestra.
Love, trust, respect and understanding form the basis of Pillai's legendary ability of working with the animals that play a central role in telling the love story of "Bali Agung."
Choreographer Ian Knowles was tasked with moving up to 150 people around the stage in a synchronized manner; no easy task when the cast is comprised of performers ranging in age from small children to mature adults.
As the choreographer, Ian also had to work with ten elephants, birds of prey, domestic farm animals and even live tigers on the stage at different times.
He is very enthusiastic about the results presented on the mammoth 60 x 40 meters stage which, he explained, "gives plenty of scope for a choreographer."
Using the very latest in stage lighting equipment and design, audiences witnessing "Bali Agung" are transported to an ancient, more magical time of royal courts, mystical demi-goddesses and mist-covered volcanic lakes.
Philip Lethlean's expertise in stage lighting has left his mark on projects in America, China, Europe and Australia. "Now theatrical people realize this and the lighting designer has become an important and integral member of each show and in the entertainment industry overall," he explained.
Having collaborated in the past with most of the creative team members of "Bali Agung" on other projects, Lethlean instantly understood their demands to highlight certain aspects of the story, costumes and sets. "Here we all understand each others needs and think as one," he said.
Lethlean added, "the story is a great one, the sets and costumes are fabulous and I believe the production is one people will talk about for years to come."
Bali Agung – The Legend of Balinese Princesses
"Bali Agung" has commenced its long-term theatrical run at the new "Bali Theatre in the Park" at the Bali Safari and Marine Park with shows four times each week from 2.30 to 3.30 pm.
[Bali Agung Theatre Tickets]