WHEN it came to deciding who would mastermind the opening and closing ceremonies of the 3rd Asian Paralympic Games in Jakarta there was an obvious choice.
Balich Worldwide Shows is well known for its work with paralympic games since the company’s owner, Marco Balich, won high praise for the 2002 flag handover event at Salt Lake City for the Torino 2006 Winter Paralympics, and then for the opening and closing ceremonies of the games themselves, for which he won a Grammy award.
Since then, the company has been associated with more than 40 international events, including the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games, Rio Olympic and Paralympic flag handover ceremonies in 2016, and Abu Dhabi 2019 Special Olympics Flag Handover in Graz in 2017.
Balich Worldwide worked with the Olympic Council of Asia and local show organiser Royalindo Convention International to set the tone for the opening of show and then closing proceedings at the Gelora Bung Karno stadium.
The Jakarta games were held in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami tragedies in Sulawesi, and the opening ceremony needed to act as a tribute to the victims of the disasters by telling the story of athletes and people in general “overcoming challenges powered by passion and strength”.
Balich is used to balancing ceremonial extravanganza with the need to strike a commemorative tone, having handled the 2009 Pescara Mediterranean Games and opening of the Juventus Stadium in 2011.
“In Pescara we dedicated a tribute to the victims of the Aquila earthquake,” Marco Balich said. “The ceremonies also honoured the value of sports, using the traditional culture and iconography of Abruzzo – the Italian region that hosted the games – with a powerful sense of humanity demonstrated by all the participants.
“In 2011, the Juventus Stadium opening celebrated the football club history paying tribute to the team’s heroes and icons and to share the grief of tragic memories, such as the Heysel tragedy, which happened in 1985.”
The opening ceremony, on the theme “We Are One”, was designed to be “a manifesto of inclusive living”. Balich says the humanity of the ceremony “set the tone around the idea of embracing differences and celebrating diversity.”
Creative director Anghela Aló says the curved stage design concept was designed to resemble the line of the equator that crosses the islands of Indonesia.
“Every Indonesian traditional architectural structure, motive and element is a combination of curves and lines that represent nature; rice paddy terraces, slanted hills and clouds in the sky. This bears the message that everything inspired from nature is manifested best in life.”
After the official speeches, a minute’s silence was called by the President of the Republic of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, to remember the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi.
A gigantic “DISABILITY” sign was then placed in the middle of the main stadium with Widodo standing in front. Two Indonesian archers – one in a wheelchair – then fired arrows into the air and the “DIS” from the sign was shattered, leaving “ABILITY” intact. A few seconds later, fireworks lit the sky and the games opened with the lighting of a cauldron, around 840 performers having taken part in the opening.
“We Are One Wonder” was the theme of the closing ceremony, playing on the victory connotation of the word “won”.
Around 15,000 people watched the two-hour show featuring music, artistic extravaganza and the live theatrical action of wayang (Indonesian shadow puppets). The event involved more than 420 performers, including seven live music acts.
The opening and closing ceremonies were praised as a success, with Asian Paralympic Committee president Majid Rashed saying they played “a pivotal role in changing lives of disabled people and challenging stigma in Asia”.
“We know that many people with disabilities in Asia struggle with mobility issues, let alone access to sports,” he said.
Balich described it as “a great honour to be chosen together with Royalindo to realise the Asian para games ceremonies”.
“An Olympic ceremony can be a statement for the future, especially when people need the courage to be stronger against adversities,” he said. “But first of all, a Paralympic ceremony gives the amazing opportunity to celebrate the strength of the athletes participating in the games, and those for me are real heroes. With their performances they convey how diversity is a value and disability becomes an ability.”
EVENT: 3rd Asian Paralympic Games – opening and closing ceremonies
ORGANISER: Olympic Council of Asia
AGENCY: Balich Worldwide Shows and Royalindo Convention International
VENUE: Gelora Bung Karno stadium, Jakarta
ATTENDEES: More than 15,000 audience plus 3,000 athletes from 43 countries
BIG MOMENT: Arrows fired into the air to transform the word “DISABILITY” to “ABILITY”
DATES: Opening ceremony Oct 6, closing ceremony Oct 13, 2018
CEREMONIES BY NUMBERS
CAST: 849 performers for 2,604 roles
SCENIC ELEMENTS: 18
COSTUMES: 1,304 (plus 514 hats)