Dressed like an everyday American pre-teen – shorts, t-shirt, baseball cap turned backwards – an Indonesian boy reaches into a treasure chest radiating golden light, like the inside of Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase. He pulls out a long, skinny object.
He’s lip-synching as pre-recorded dialogue, spoken in clean, pitch-perfect American English, booms over Nusa Dua Theatre’s crisp sound system. Devdan Show, a beautifully choreographed celebration of Indonesia’s cultural touchstones, is nearing its conclusion.
“A penis guard?!”
Our young narrator has, indeed, found himself a penis protector, or koteka, a traditional garment made from sun-dried water pumpkin gourd that’s still worn by male tribesman on the somewhat remote island of Papua. He holds it up for all to see, the auditorium lights dim, and a troupe of male dancers clad in feathered headdresses and straw skirts storm onto the stage stomping, kicking, drum-beating, and swinging their sizable kotekas.
Papua is the last of five Indonesian regions spotlighted during the 90-minute Devdan Show, a high-energy performance that blows by in a flurry of impressive dance numbers, costume changes, and elaborate sets that include everything from fiery infernos to falling rain showers. Men crack long whips with exacting synchronicity, women gracefully sway through a 17th-century royal court dance, and Javan warriors spar with spears. There’s even a brief hip-hop overture, which depending on your point of view is either an ill-advised, superfluous nod to modern times, or a fun break from all the ancient action; the crowd seemed to love it.
The show’s narrative arc runs through the boy and his sister, the youngest members of a Bali tour group briefly introduced during the opening segment. As the group’s leader marches the group around with over-the-top flamboyancy – not sure what exactly is going on there – the two sneak away, find a treasure chest, and pull out items specific to each island: an aerophone mussel horn for Borneo, songket (handmade textile) for Sumatra, an udeng (men’s headdress) for Bali. Nobody goes looking for the lost youngsters, perhaps because they’re transfixed on all the onstage eye candy (or more likely because the kids are just MacGuffins).
The highlights of Devdan’s well-conceived routines are the stunning aerial acrobatics, particularly during one of the show’s more subdued interludes when a couple, suspended only by thin straps and their partner’s sure grip, glide above the stage in circles, twisting and turning and locking onto each other like flexible, bendable Legos. The eerie Balinese kecak dance, too, is a standout, and a reasonable alternative for those who can’t make it to Pura Dalem, located about 30 kilometers north in Ubud, to see the dance in all its ghastly glory.
Devdan Show is fairly similar in scope, tone, and striking visuals to Siam Niramit, another tourist-oriented cultural performance held in Bangkok, Thailand, which, like Devdan, is a few steps above the city’s litany of comparable shows. It isn’t cheap – tickets start at $40 for adults, $32 for kids – but it is fun, entertaining, and certainly one of southern Bali’s best family-friendly activities that don’t involve the beach. Bonus: Treasure chest filled with Papuan penis protectors.
Devdan Show is held every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at Bali Nusa Dua Theatre, Kawasan Pariwisata Nusa Dua, Komplek BTDC, Bali. +62 361 770197. 7pm. Advance tickets $40 – $120 adults, children $32 – $120 here.
The writer was provided with complimentary admission for the purpose of review. While this has not influenced this feature in any way, the writer and Perceptive Travel believe in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. All photos provided courtesy of Devdan Show.