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Wayang Kulit Performances

The given reading is dedicated to wayang kulit. Dalang Purbo Asmolo describes this style from his point of view. He organizes international tours for students, who learn Wayang culture, and for other people who are interested in Wayang kulit. Wayang kulit is some special kind of puppet performances. There are different kinds of these puppets: wanda, sinpingan, and dhudhahan. The first ones represent different forms of the same character, the second ones are other figures, which appear in performance, and the third ones are the puppets that are not used in sinpingan. This book is quite valuable for collectors because the images of the puppets, which are found in Surakarta kotak (a puppet box), are of a very high quality. In this book, everyone interested in the history of Wayang culture can find the detailed names of different characters. Knowing them can help a person to identify a character immediately as soon as it appears in the show (Foley, 2012). There is another group of puppets, called dalang. This limited group of figures is the most popular one. This book does not tell readers about movements, music, or stories of wayang kupit; however, it gives some information about the creator of some definite puppet, its size, material, the year of its creation, and other details.
I think it is very useful to maintain folk traditions. Thanks to it, modern people can be acquainted with the culture of their ancestors.
Wayang Kulit Performances in Javanese Culture
Wayang kulit is one of the most popular performances in Javanese culture. The puppets are made of rawhide and they cast dramatic shadows through a cotton screen during the show (Foley, 2012). All stories are based on classical literature, but they also discuss modern issues and ethnic, cultural, and moral problems. Traditional performances last all night and they are accompanied by gamelan (a traditional Indonesian ensemble). Tourists love such performances very much as these are held on some special events or national holidays, and they reflect the interesting traditions of Wayang culture. Wayang kulit is translated as ‘leather shadow puppet’. There are two meanings of the word ‘wayang’ - a puppet or a performance. The word ‘kulit’ means ‘leather’ or ‘skin’. There are also different regional and stylistics types of this performance, but the book under review is based on the type that is typical of contemporary court-based Surakarta. This style is one of the main ones of Wayang performances in Indonesia, and it is so popular because of it flexibility in dramatization techniques, humor, and philosophy, which makes its interesting for different kinds of audience (Foley, 2012). It can take many years of life to understand the essence of this art, to investigate its details and images. The book includes the overview of Wayang art, based on interviews, research, published sources, and observations (Foley, 2012). It also includes the collection of Wayang images that are found in the Museum of International Folk Art. I believe that such a kind of performances is very extraordinary and specific as it requires some special deep understanding. Therefore, a person, who wants to understand the context of some performance, needs to know all features of Wayang puppet shows.
Peculiarities of Wayang Show
Wayang performance is a great show, and it lasts during all night, gathering numerous spectators. This performance consists of a number of components such as leather puppets, a screen, a puppet box, a frame, a light source, and a galang orchestra (Karz-Harris, 2010). Many people come from different corners of the world to see this event as it is quite amazing and extraordinary. Luckily, the spirit of this culture and art has been saved, and such performances have plenty of admirers. One can observe shadows without other components of this show, such as an orchestra, leather puppets, and other details, or spectators can come behind the screen to see the entire process in details (Karz-Harris, 2010). Moreover, such performances can be sponsored by a family, some organization, or government and held in the honor of some celebration of a special event. Consequently, the possibility to organize such a performance shows a high social position of a person. There is a belief that some ritual Wayang performances help to solve problems and prevent disasters. I think that Wayang performances can bring a good income to local people as many tourists are interested in seeing them. Consequently, many locals pay a great attention to this kind of art, thus making their ancient culture alive.
Settings of Wayang Performance
Wayang performances require good preparations and settings. The settings of such performances can be organized by individuals or some group of people. If such a performance takes place in a village, all inhabitants are invited to watch it. Even a royal palace can be a he location for Wayang performances. Furthermore, wayang kulit shows are considered to be elite, and they are often broadcasted on TV and radio. Reflecting the traditions of Wayang culture, these performances make modern people closer to this kind of art. During these shows, one can buy different souvenirs, such as Wayang books, balloons, toys, and cups, and taste different drinks and sweets. People accept these performances as some mystic perception of the universe; they reflect some symbols and signs that are clear only to real lovers and fans of Wayang shows. The most important component of this performance is the galang orchestra, which makes this show unusual, specific and impressing. However, it is important to use all components of Wayang performances if its creator wants to impress spectators and show the essence of the culture. I am of the opinion that after visiting such a show, spectators will feel being placed in the epicenter of ancient events, traditions, and customs. The music of galang orchestra plays a rather important role in the performance as it reflects the spirit of Wayang folk.
The Indonesian Theater
In 1960, two men, James Peacock and Clifford Geertz, started to teach Indonesian theatre and performances in North American academia. Their studies were based on analyzing different symbols and the power of Indonesian performances. Other American scholars, John Emigh and Kathy, Foley went to Indonesia and brought many articles, translated plays, and workshops in order to learn how to perform mask plays and puppet shows (Cohen, 2013). The main idea of those studies was to pay a great attention to the virtuosic forms of expression by hereditary performers, connecting the past and the present. American scholars dealt with avant-garde Indonesian artists whose work and experience were quite valuable for those studies (Cohen, 2013). They went to Indonesia to watch contemporary Indonesian performances and to meet with their modern actors. These studies give a full understanding of the Indonesian contemporary art of puppet performances. One can notice a link between ancient theatrical culture and contemporary performances because the past influences the modernity greatly. As for me, I support these scholars’ work since it is rather useful to collect information on past and present theatrical performances since readers can compare both of them and see the differences and similarities between them.
About the author: Alisa Parker is a master in Literature at the University of Massachusetts. She is currently working as one of the best writers at She also studies male psychology.