It's easy to forget that Bali is just one island out of over 17,000 in the country of Indonesia, an archipelago-nation that stands as the world's fourth most populous. Visitors who limit their travels to Bali miss out on the cultural riches on display alongside Indonesia's less-traveled roads.
Devdan: Treasure of the Archipelago, a music-dance-acrobatics extravaganza at the Bali Nusa Dua Theatre, was produced to address that particular problem. The show attempts to condense and perform the arts native to each of Indonesia's major cultures (the culture of Bali included) in less than 90 minutes, skipping from a Bali kecak performance to a hypnotic Sumatran "Saman" dance to a high-flying romantic pas a deux inspired by the tribal arts of Borneo.
"Inspired by" is key: Devdan is not a faithful recap of Indonesia's rich tradition of art and dance, but a series of highlights, jazzed up and Las Vegas-ified for a modern crowd. The aim is not so much authenticity as spectacle: one minute a dancer executes an aerial ballet sheathed in silk, next a torrential rain pours from the rafters at the end of a mesmerizing rain dance. At one point, the sets actually catch fire.
Acknowledging that most of Indonesia's own youth show little interest in their own country's native culture, the show begins with two bored modern-day kids. We're supposed to see the show through their eyes: their discovery of a treasure chest in Bali serves as a framing device for the action.
"I describe it as an Indonesian Nutcracker," Jeffrey Stafford, Devdan's Director of Stage Production explains. The show kicks off with a comical piece set in Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest; the two kids wander away from a tour group, climb a mountain, and find a chest stuffed with magical artifacts from all over Indonesia.
- Don't get the reference? Read this: All About The Nutcracker Ballet.
"These artifacts magically transport these children into these areas [around Indonesia]", Stafford says. "They pick a Balinese kite, and it transports them to a village in Bali. They pick up a batik from Sumatra, a knife from Java… in the end they realize that their culture is the real treasure."
High Tech Stage
No expense or effort was spared to make each act sizzle; the producers, the husband-and-wife producing team of Suparsono and Lindratini Liauw spent about $8 million to build the Bali Nusa Dua Theater from the ground up, fitting the place with high-tech lights, a pool downstage, and fittings for both rain and fire.
"Our lighting system is state-of-the-art - we have 40 moving lights, the type you see in Cirque de Soleil or rock concerts," says Jeffrey Stafford. "We have a 90,000-liter pool we use in certain scenes in the show. And centerstage, we have a turntable capable of turning 360 degrees, and it has a maximum rotation rate of about 16 rotations a minute."
Every component counts - the kecak performance in the first act benefits tremendously from the turntable, as the massed dancers begin to rotate independently of their movements just when you least expect it to happen.
Flying harnesses are also used to take the performances to heights never dreamed by the cultures depicted in the show. A Javanese fairy queen descends from the sky to grant life to a dead warrior; a Dayak couple court while spinning a dozen feet above the audience's heads.
Such aerial trickery invites comparisons with Cirque de Soleil, which Stafford is not too comfortable playing up. "It was influenced by Cirque de Soleil to a degree - you have the aerial works, you have the acrobatics, and the first thing that people think when they see that is Cirque de Soleil," explains Stafford. "But a lot of that was and is based on the dance here - even the acrobatics, a lot of that is based on traditional dances.
"Not strictly traditional dance, because if you bring someone from Borneo here who's an aficionado, he'll go, 'No, no, that's not right, they'll never do that dance here.' It's all inspired by the traditional dances of Indonesia," says Stafford.
The New New Thing in Bali, Indonesia
The Bali Nusa Dua Theatre, where Devdan is performed four times a week, was built on the site of the former Candra Loka Amphitheatre in the tourist enclave of Nusa Dua. After opening in July 2011, the show has been performed four times a week, without fail. The guests are usually booked by travel agents and partner hotels, many of whom were won over to the idea after initial reluctance.
- Read about Nusa Dua Hotels.
"We're trying to get contracts with all the hotels, all the travel agents to be as excited about the theater and the show as we are," says Stafford. "Western-style theater is so new in Indonesia, and specifically in Bali, so it was hard for the first couple of months to get people to understand what we were. A lot of people thought we were a movie theater, or it was just a kecak dance indoors."
At present, all-inclusive guests at the Grand Mirage Resort are given tickets to Devdan and free transportation to and from the Bali Nusa Dua Theatre. Other partner hotels at press time include the Conrad Bali (compare rates|buy direct), the Dynasty Bali, the Aston (compare rates|buy direct), and the Ayana (compare rates).
- Read our Review of the Grand Mirage Resort, Tanjung Benoa, Bali, Indonesia or look at other Tanjung Benoa, Bali Hotels & Resorts.
The Theatre is conveniently located next to the Bali Collections Shopping Centre (bali-collection.com), where guests can catch an after-show drink or dinner. If they're lucky, they'll meet some of the cast emerging in full costume, and have their pictures taken with the costumed dancers to remember the experience by.
Devdan at the Bali Nusa Dua Theatre at A Glance
- What it is: Indoor cultural performance
- Location: Bali Nusa Dua Theatre, Komplek BTDC, Nusa Dua, Bali - between Melia Bali and Grand Hyatt Bali, near the east entrance gate of the Bali Collections Shopping Centre. (Google Maps)
- Show Dates: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 7pm. No matinees.
- Duration: 90 minutes
- Ticket Prices: Variety of prices and packages available, beginning at $65 for seat category B. See official site for pricing and details: www.devdanshow.com.
- How to get there: Rides may be arranged through your hotel or travel agent. Alternatively, you can catch the Bali Collection shuttle bus, which departs from selected resorts in Nusa Dua and Tanjung Benoa. (bali-collection.com/shuttle-bus) You can hail a cab to take you there, though chances of finding a return cab home are not very good. More info here: How to Ride a Taxi in Bali, Indonesia.