|An array of puppets at a performance|
|Dalang as the center of attention|
|Rama and Siti puppets in the famous "smell|
my finger, Rama" scene
As I mentioned previously, many performances are based on the Ramayana and Maharabata, but there are local adaptations as well. Javanese shows often feature moral lessons or comic relief provided by a family of "clown" puppets: Semar (the father), Gareng (the oldest son), Petruk (middle son), and Bagong (the youngest son). In the two movies below you can see a couple of short scenes from a shadow puppet performance. In the first one the puppets are arguing about something; in the second they proceed to mix it up. While I was filming my camera kept going in and out of focus, but I think that adds a bit to the artistic effect. Aside from this the dalang often takes the puppets in and out of focus to give the impression of movement.
Wayang Kulit shows are a good place to hear the cacophonous gamelan orchestra as well. I'll write a post in the future about Gamelan, but this musical ensemble consisting of gongs, xylophones, stringed instruments, and woodwinds is an ever-present part of Javanese and Balinese cultural events. The Gamelan is also pretty divisive; some people love it and some people hate it (I personally fall into the "like" category). In the movie below you can see the "behind the scenes" view of what goes on at a shadow-puppet performance. Many people prefer to sit and watch from this angle; though it's interesting you don't get the full effect of the performance. This particular show was staged for tourists, and to tell you the truth I don't think anyone realized how you're supposed to watch the show until I walked around to the "front" to see the shadows. At first I was sitting all alone, but then little by little the rest of the audience joined me. So rule number one for watching shadow puppets: if you aren't watching the shadows you aren't watching the right thing.
If you happen to be in Yogyakarta and would like to take in a wayang kulit show, you can see one at the Sono Budoyo museum just inside the Kraton. It is across the street to the north from the Alun-Alun Utara (the northern park). They have performances there just about every night starting at 8pm. The show lasts around two hours and costs Rp20,000 for adults, Rp10,000 for kids. You'll need to pay an additional Rp3,000 for your camera.
(1) Other types of theater include Wanag Klitik, in which two dimensional wooden puppets are used, and Wayang Golek, which uses three dimensional wooden puppets.
(2) If you take enough pictures, surely you'll eventually get a winner...
(3) The term "dalang" in Indonesian also has the same connotations as "puppet master" in English; figuratively the dalang is the mastermind or the guy that pulls the strings.