Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mahabharata Performance: Wayang Kulit

UNESCO designated Wayang Kulit, a shadow puppet theater and the best known of the Indonesian wayang, as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on 7 November 2003. In return of the acknowledgment, UNESCO demanded Indonesia to preserve their heritage.

Wayang is a generic term denoting traditional theatre in Indonesia. There is no evidence that wayang existed before Hinduism came to Southeast Asia sometime in the first century CE brought in by Indian traders. However, there very well may have been indigenous storytelling traditions that had a profound impact on the development of the traditional puppet theatre. The first record of a wayang performance is from an inscription dated 930 CE which says "si Galigi mawayang," or "Sir Galigi played wayang". From that time till today it seems certain features of traditional puppet theatre have remained. Galigi was an itinerant performer who was requested to perform for a special royal occasion. At that event he performed a story about the hero Bhima from the Mahabharata.

Wayang is also known as Wayang Kulit Kelantan in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia, especially those in Kelantan and Terengganu. They are physically different in form, language and music with those in Indonesia. In Malaysia, the Indonesian version of Wayang is known as Wayang Kulit Jawa.

Wayang Kulit is a very unique form of theatre employing the principle of light and shadow. The puppets are crafted from buffalo hide and mounted on bamboo sticks. When held up behind a piece of white cloth, with an electric bulb or an oil lamp as the light source, shadows are cast on the screen.

Wayang Kulit plays are invariably based on romantic tales, especially adaptations of the classic Indian epics, "The Mahabarata" and "The Ramayana". Some of the plays are also based on local happenings (current issues) or other local secular stories. It is up to the conductor or "Tok Dalang" to decide his direction.

Jarrod will be attending (and possibly filming!) a wayang performance tonight. Expect video and/or photos in tomorrow's blog post. For those of you in the Honolulu area, you can find out more about tonight's performance below.

Babad Alas Mrentani (The Opening of Mrentani Forest)
Javanese Wayang Kulit (Shadow Puppet Theatre)
with guest artists
Widiyanto, dhalang (puppeteer)
and musician Sutrisno Hartana
UH Gamelan Ensemble
Hardja Susilo, director emeritus
Byron Moon, director
Saturday, November 28, 2009
7:30 p.m., Music Department Courtyard NEW LOCATION
$12 general / $8 students & seniors

In the never ending feud between the Pandhawa and the Kurawa clan, the devious Kurawa Prime Minister, Sangkuni, manages to coerce the young innocent Pandhawa princes into placing their estate as a wager in a Kurawa sponsored fixed game of dice. Losing the game, the Pandhawa are exiled to the treacherous Mrentani forest. The Pandhawa's attempt to open the forest to establish a dwelling place encounters fierce resistance from the genie, ghosts, and ghouls of the forest. With great effort the Pandhawa defeat the denizens of Mrentani, and establish a new prosperous state of Amarta.

Master pupeteer Widiyanto joins the UH Gamelan Ensemble to present this wayang kulit performance in celebration of the 75th birthday of the ensemble's founding director, Pak Hardja Susilo. As a concession to western audiences, the performance time will be reduced in length to around two hours from the traditional eight. The story will be told in both Javanese and English and accompanied by a full gamelan orchestra.

The location of the performance has been changed to the music Department Courtyard outside room 36. The audience will be situated on both sides of the screen - outdoors (ground seating) under a tent on the shadow side of the screen, and inside room 36 (fixed chairs) on the dhalang/gamelan side, and is encouraged to change sides during the performance.

Presented in cooperation with the Hawaii Gamelan Society.

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