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Indonesian Shadow Theatre

Photographs by Vova Pomortzeff

Traditional Indonesian shadow puppet theatre wayang kulit is widespread in Java and Bali. Each wayang kulit performance takes about eight hours and only one dalang (puppet master) conducts all puppets and vocalizes them with different voices. A classical wayang kulit performance continues through the night without pauses and intermissions. All this time a dalang does not leave his workplace next to the huge white screen on which shadows of puppets are projected. Although Indonesia is the most populated Muslim country in the world, stories and characters of wayang kulit performances are based on the Indian epic Ramayana and Mahabharata with addition of modern plots include political satire. Dalangs in Indonesia are not only puppet masters. Their moral authority among the local people is comparable with the authority of Imams.

1. Dalang Manteb Sudharsono, one of the most famous Indonesian dalangs, performs the wayang kulit performance Sudamala in the Sasono Hinggil Theatre in the Yogyakarta Keraton, the area of the Sultan palace in Yogyakarta, Central Java. Wayang kulit performances in the Sasono Hinggil Theatre are hold only once a month and the most famous dalangs are invited. This performance was shortened from eight to seven hours on the occasion of the Ramadan.

 

2. Spectaculars at the wayang kulit performance Sudamala in the Sasono Hinggil Theatre in Yogyakarta.

 

3. Wayang kulit performance The Death of Kumbakarna in the Sono Budoyo Museum in Yogyakarta. Everyday wayang kulit performances in the Sono Budoyo Museum are shortened to two hours for foreign tourists. The wayang kulit screen is traditionally set in the open space, so spectaculars can watch the performance from the both side. While tourists usually choose the side where only the shadows are seen, the local people prefer to watch the performance from the another side, where the dalang and the gamelan ensemble sit.

 

4. Wayang kulit performance Sudamala in the Sasono Hinggil Theatre in Yogyakarta.

 

5. Vocalists of the gamelan ensemble, traditional Javanese musical ensemble, prepare for a performance in the Sasono Hinggil Theatre.

 

6. Musicians of the gamelan ensemble preparing for the performance in the Sasono Hinggil Theatre.

 

7. Dalang Manteb Sudharsono shows the wayang kulit performance Sudamala in the Sasono Hinggil Theatre.

 

8. Vocalists of the gamelan attend the wayang kulit performance Sudamala in the Sasono Hinggil Theatre.

 

9. Wayang kulit performance Sudamala in the Sasono Hinggil Theatre in Yogyakarta.

 

10. Spectaculars eating during the seven-hours-long wayang kulit performance in the Sasono Hinggil Theatre.

 

11. Wayang kulit performance The Death of Kumbakarna in the Sono Budoyo Museum in Yogyakarta.

 

12. Dalang Manteb Sudharsono lights a cigarette in a pause between the acts of the wayang kulit performance Sudamala in the Sasono Hinggil Theatre. Allegorical figures of the Gunungan Tree of Life are used as a curtain in wayang kulit performances. One or more trees are set in the middle of the screen in the pauses between the acts and then moved aside to make space for the puppets.

 

13. The Gunungan Trees of Life seen during the wayang kulit performance The Death of Kumbakarna in the Sono Budoyo Museum.

 

14. Craftsman colours the wayang kulit puppet in the Balai Agung craft shop in Surakarta, Central Java.

 

15. Salesman shows the wayang kulit puppet to the customers in the Classic Wayang craft shop in Yogyakarta. The price of one wayang kulit puppet starts from 50 euros and depends on the size of the puppet.

 

16. Unfinished wayang kulit puppets in the Classic Wayang craft shop in Yogyakarta. Puppets for wayang kulit performances are made of buffalo skin. Production of one puppet takes approximately six days. Each character has its own features and can be easily identified by spectaculars. For example, Rama, the central character of the Indian epic Ramayana, is always depicted with a long nose and wearing a crown.

 

17. Craftsman makes a wayang kulit puppet of buffalo skin in the Classic Wayang craft shop in Yogyakarta. The portrait of the founder of the craft shop is seen on the wall. Kanjeng Raden Tumenggung Djojodiningrat, the great grandfather of the current owner of the craft shop, was the court puppet master of the Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX of Yogyakarta. It is because the Classic Wayang craft shop is situated right in the Yogyakarta Keraton, the area of the Sultan palace.

 

18. Craftsman makes wayang kulit puppets of Rama in the Classic Wayang craft shop in Yogyakarta.

 

19. Unfinished wayang kulit puppets of Rama in the Classic Wayang craft shop in Yogyakarta. Tolls used for hewing puppets of buffalo skin are made from motorcycle spokes. Earlier instruments were of bamboo or bones and broke down often. Thus wayang kulit craftsmen are very grateful to the inventors of motorcycles.

 

20. Craftsmen colour wayang kulit puppets in the Balai Agung craft shop in Surakarta.

 

21. Painted arms of a wayang kulit puppet in the Classic Wayang craft shop in Yogyakarta.

 

22. Craftsman colours a wayang kulit puppet of King Kresno in the Balai Agung craft shop in Surakarta.

 

23. Craftsman fastens sticks of buffalo horns to Rama puppet in the Classic Wayang craft shop in Yogyakarta.

 

24. Craft shop manager Dodo shows the puppet of Rama in the Classic Wayang craft shop in Yogyakarta.

 

25. Wayang kulit puppets of Rama, Ganesha and Hanuman seen in the Sono Budoyo Museum in Yogyakarta.

 

Wayang orang is a traditional Javanese dance and drama theatrical performance, like wayang kulit also based on the episodes of the Indian epic Ramayana or Mahabharata. Wayang orang literally means a 'human theatre'. Each wayang orang performance is improvised from the beginning to the end. Only the general plot of the play is read out to the actors half an hour before the performance and roles are shared. Then the actors have to decide what they will say and do on the stage in next two hours. Certainly one actor does not know how another responds to his remark. Thus, each wayang orang performance is completely different. The Sriwedari Municipal Theatre in Surakarta, Central Java, performs one episode of the Indian epic Mahabharata every day.

26. Actors make themselves up for the wayang orang performance in the Sriwedari Theatre in Surakarta.

 

27. Protagonist actor Zamrud Haryo Yekti Wiroyudo dresses for the wayang orang performance based on an episode of the Mahabharata in the Sriwedari Theatre in Surakarta.

 

28. Children of the actors watch the performance from the backstage in the Sriwedari Theatre in Surakarta.

 

29. Wayang orang performance based on an episode of the Mahabharata in the Sriwedari Theatre in Surakarta.

 

30. Protagonist actor Zamrud Haryo Yekti Wiroyudo watches the performance from the backstage in the Sriwedari Theatre.

 

31. Young performer of the Monkey makes himself up for the wayang orang performance Ramayana in the Purawisata Theatre in Yogyakarta, Central Java.

 

32. Wayang orang performance Ramayana in the Purawisata Theatre in Yogyakarta.

 

33. Performers of Hanuman the Monkey King and the Monkey make themselves up for the wayang orang performance Ramayana in the Purawisata Theatre in Yogyakarta.

 

34. Performer dresses as Hanuman attends the wayang orang performance Ramayana in the Purawisata Theatre in Yogyakarta.

 

35. Young performers wash make-up off after the wayang orang performance Ramayana in the Purawisata Theatre.

 

36. Wayang kulit puppets shown in the Classic Wayang craft shop in Yogyakarta.

 

The photographs of this feature story were shot in August 2011 in Yogyakarta and Surakarta, Central Java, Indonesia.

Copyright 2011 Vova Pomortzeff

 
   
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