Of all Java’s many art forms, the wayang kulit or shadow – puppet play undoubtedly lies closest to the heart of the Javanese. The dalang or puppeteers is the key to the performance: a masterly stage hand, actor, impersonator, singer, orchestra conductor, historian, counsellor, comedian and storyteller all in one. The basic outlines of the ancient tales, generally episodes from the Mahabrata epic, are familiar enough to the audience. But the dalang breathes new life into each re-telling of them, introducing the present in bawdy asides and outrageous satires, while continually reaffirming the harmony and balance between antagonists and protagonists that is a central motif in the Javanese worldview.
Depsite the increasing encroachment of films and television, wayang kulit still flourishes in and around Yogya. Performances for selamatan ritual feasts, weddings or circumstances occur regularly, often in modest village compounds. The performance always starts around 9 p.m. and continues till dwan. There is a full eight hour presentation of wayang kulit on the second Saturday of every month at the Sasana Inggil performance pavilion, just south of the kraton. Short wayang excerpts are also performed for the benefit of visitors at several locations.
Chances are that your most vivid memory of the wayang, and indeed of Yogya itself, will be aural – the gentle music of the gamelan. (See ” The Sound of Moonlight“) You’II hear its insinuating, liquid melodies floating over white – washed walls on quiet sunlit streets, or bursting forth from a transistor radio at roadside stalls; you may also hear it as you stroll through the kraton (where there is a regular rehearsal on Mon. and Wed. between 10 a.m. and noon), or in the lobby of your hotel. Pre-recorded cassette tapes are available at shops on Jl. Malioboro, and centire orchestras may be ordered from gamelan foundries in Yogya, where these ancient bronze instruments are still cast, forged and polished using “age-old tools and method. (See “Guide in Brief.”)
Classical Javanese Dance is another highlight of Yogya’s cultural scene. Having originated in the kratons (See “Dance and Drama”), where they still thrive, court dances are now also taught at number of academies in the city. The weekly rehearsal within the kraton itself (Sundays, 10 a.m. to noon) should not be missed, but there are also a number of regular evening performances, and interested visitors are welcome to observe dance classes at the schools. (See “Guide in Brief” for details.)
Perhaps the ultimate in Javanese dancwe spectaculars, though, is the Ramayana Ballet – a modernized varsion of the lavish wayang orang dance drama productions, performed monthly over four consecutive nights during the dry season (May to October), under the full moon in front of the elegant, 9th century Loro Jonggrang temple at Prambanan.
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