Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, December 2009)

at the Amandari

Patrick Bensard, Director of France’s Cinémathèque de la Danse, and his muse Agnes Montenay at the Amandari Trance and Dance Film Festival.

Last month saw the 30th Anniversary of the start of this column and, coincidentally,  the 20th anniversary of the Amandari hotel, and the 6th anniversary of the Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival.
To celebrate their anniversary the nice people at the Amandari—in particular General Manager Liv Gussing and Cultural Advisor  Soedarmadji Damais—invited Agnes Montenay and Patrick Bensard of France’s prestigious Cinémathèque de la Danse to arrange a festival of dance and trance films, the likes of which the island has never seen. The trance films, in particular, feature many weird and wonderful animal sacrifices.
The films—mostly pre-World War II—were shown in the wantilan hall of nearby Kedewatan Village and attracted a huge crowd of Balinese children (who shrieked with laughter at the oddest moments) and a good smattering from the Expat Hill Tribe and Balinese dance communities. The only attendee from the trance and animal sacrifice community was a lice-intolerant tree-hugger from New Zealand who attempted to pin me down just before my opening night speech (Why do people assume that landscapers love trees?)
The highlight of the opening night was a 1936 documentary by Swedish legend Rolf de Maré which featured footage of the extraordinary Baris Guak, or Crow Dance once performed quite regularly on Nusa Penida island. The ancient footage showed a brigade of Baris dancers in distinctive Kain Nusa costumes (more Issey Miyake than warrior), prancing and posturing with sinuous grace.
Dance impresario Rucina Ballinger from Peliatan’s Banana Trunk Ballet, a comedy quartet, was misty-eyed with amazement.

•     •     •

The last evening of the four day festival featured a short film by Agnes Montenay, called Strangers in Paradise, about her life as a dance student in Bali in the 1970s, and footage from all the temple festivals and dances I had the pleasure of taking her to during that glorious decade. I have one brief cameo in the film: I am seen in a dark alley, walking away from the camera (the French are obscure   and perverse, and I respect that).

•     •     •

Animal sacrifices at Ir. Gusti Sarjana’s house consecration, at Sidakarya, 9th October 2009.

After the festival I am left in a reflective mood: what homage these old-timers paid to the fabled isle; without their films many dances of the pre-war era would be lost forever. Without Walter Spies and Katharane Mershon there would be no Ketjak Dance or Campuan Hotel or Ubud Art Museum and Charlie Chaplin’s days in Bali would have gone unrecorded.
Compared to these pioneers, expats today are a thankless lot— concentrating for the most part on what Bali can do for them, not the other way round. They seem to be more worried about stray dogs and the lack of shade than the preservation of the gorgeous Balinese culture.
To celebrate this column’s anniversary I would like this month to feature a selection of gorgeous Balinese events that lit up my life in October.

27th October 2009: A neo-con broadside
In an inauspicious start to this column’s fourth decade, the Stranger in Paradise has today been slandered in the white-supremacist Bali Times by the red-head bigot, columnist Hector (see my defense on Stranger-lovers are hereby invited to burn their bras and other assorted sexy things (beware the Rise of the Superbulé) and to cancel their subscriptions to the Bali Times.

Mundur’s son, Komang Tria Yuwana Putra, at his tooth-filing

28th October 2009: To a glamorous garden party cum tooth-filing, Sanur-style, at an old friend’s house in Sidakarya, East Denpasar
Twenty years ago, one of my gardeners,  Mundur, married a house-maid from the Wantilan Lama Villa at Batujimbar Estates, in Sanur.
Today all three of their children are having their teeth filed and they are dressed to kill—by I Wayan Rengas Kemayu of Keramas—in two-tone crowns (gelung) and princely costumes.
Mundur’s new home—adjacent Bali’s first cricket oval and next to the Sidakarya cremation grounds—is this morning a feast of horticultural and Balinese ceremonial beauty. For a moment I sit in the high pavilion with Ida Bagus Gede Yudiyana (son of the much-loved Ida Bagus Beratha, Perbekel (Mayor) of Sanur in the 1980s) and his brother; they are leading the Brahman tooth-filing contingent during today's rites.

Kadek Pursika and Ni Putu Sri Sadiartini by the ‘Ajeg-Ajeg-Jiggy-Jig’ Photo Studio of Kesiman, Denpasar

While we chat about a propitious day for drawing and quartering Hector the Hoon from the Bali Times they flick through my first book of Sanur diaries—the original Stranger in Paradise 1979-80—where his family is well-featured. I learn that Yudiyana’s brother has a new warung—called Pregina opposite the Village Restaurant at the Santrian in Sanur—which, he tells me, serves excellent Balinese food.
Before the ceremony starts I wander into Mundur’s house and find him—beaming with love and pride—splashing his beautiful teenage children with holy water.

Pura Dalem Sakenan held a once-in-a-decade Karya Agung over nine days, 23rd October to 1st November 2009. Photos by Ida Bagus Gede Surya Manuaba

2nd November 2009: The Suwung-Kepaon Gods finally return from Pura Sakenan on Serangan Island; the Golden Chariot conveys the head god, Ratu Agung, North, in a glittering procession to signify the gods’ triumphant return home to the ‘mother’ temple, Pura Dalem Kepala

I get a ‘fix’ of ceremonial bliss at Suwung-Kepaon tonight. After two weeks on the road, in Africa and in India, my heart soars at the end of the first ritual session: the gamelan is playing a pretty melody as four priests trip the light fantastic on the grassy court centre.





Bill Hollinger, Wieneke de Groot, and the Stranger at the Indonesian
Heritage Society fundraiser for the Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival,
30th October 2009.

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