Wayang in Melbourne Town

Wayang kulit Title Page

Over the years throughout my travels to Indonesia, I have been drawn into the art form of ‘wayang’ many times and seen many performances on different islands in Indonesia. This time round, this venture was in my very own backyard; at the Arts Centre in Melbourne!So, what exactly is ‘wayang‘?

The term ‘wayang’ can include many art forms such as; wayang kulit – shadow puppet, wayang golek – 3D wooden puppet, wayang klitik – 2D wooden puppet, wayang wong – mask dance performance and even includes; tari topeng – mask dance and gamelan – the Indonesian instrumental orchestra.

The first time I really encountered the art of wayang kulit was when I was living in Semarang, Central Java. I remember it was evening and I was with a good friend and we were walking around my neighbourhood (we often did this at night, as it was cool and pleasant to walk through the maze of small alleys of my neighbourhood). Anyway, this one night whilst walking…we came across a shadow puppet performance…it was the tinkling sounds of the gamelan that first caught my attention…and we followed those strange voices until we found the spot where the performance was being held. It was busy with lots of local people…watching the shadows on the screen, talking with family and friends, eating and drinking…I remember a group of men gambling on cards or maybe it was dominos.

I loved that night…I stayed watching the shadow puppet performance until dawn when it ended. It was fascinating in so many concepts of the whole experience.

The next two times I encountered a shadow puppet performance…it was on Gili Trawangan, Lombok. They held it on the soccer field and it was huge! Locals and tourists turned up in the hundreds… I would say! The puppeteer was extremely clever in the fact that he used both Indonesian and English, to ensure the tourists could understand some of the story and be entertained. The stories were also based around westerners and locals interacting…there were some very funny characters and stories and I remember I laughed a lot! My favourite character – that I will never forget, was – ‘Mbak Susu Pepaya’ – the female character with her huge pepaya (paw-paw) shaped breasts…hilarious!

I respect the dalang (the shadow puppeteer) and his skills of performing the movements and voices for every character and there can be up to 150 characters, not to mention the many different traditional stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. I love everything about the art of wayang…the traditional characters and stories and also the contemporary performances which are becoming more popular in Indonesia, particularly in Java, Bali and Lombok. And not to forget that I love the atmosphere that surrounds a wayang performance…it’s a smorgasbord for the senses!

I haven’t seen or been to a wayang performance for several years…but I was reunited with the beautiful art form a couple of weeks ago…and it came to me… wayang in Melbourne!

Wednesday 6th April 2011, I attended a ‘Shadow Puppet Professional Learning Seminar’ – hosted by the Multicultural Education Unit (Studies of Asia) DEECD and the Arts Centre (Melbourne). The star of the evening was I Made Sidia, a master shadow puppeteer from Gianyar, Bali. He was charismatic and so totally entertaining with his multitude of skills in wayang kulit – shadow puppetry, tari topeng – mask dancing and his overall dramatisation in all forms.

I Made Sidia began his presentation with introducing himself, his family and his life in Bali…through the use of a slide show. It transported me straight back to Bali…especially to the time when I was living in Bali…oh how I miss that life sometimes…

My favourite photos were of the surrounds of Made’s village…the beautiful scenery…the golden green rice fields but the most amazing photo was the one of Made’s two year old son learning about the art of wayang kulit. Made explained that he had begun learning about wayang from his father and his grandfather at the young age of four….but his son is ONLY two! That’s amazing!

Made is an international artist and has worked in many countries around the world, such as; Australia several times, Europe, America and parts of Asia too. He travels to share his passion of all forms of wayang with the rest of the world and also continues to teach young local children in and around his village either wayang, tari topeng or gamelan. Although Made obviously treasures the traditional art form of wayang with it’s stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata…but Made has also captured the art of not only the traditional but also contemporary art forms of wayang.

Made demonstrated various styles of tari topeng with a variety of different masks which each one takes on the role of a different character; the old man, the clown, the servant, and even a female…(lucu banget…kayak banci! heheheheee). Made then performed a short version of Ramayana…using both traditional shadow puppets and also more modern style puppets. He had everyone totally enthralled!

A brief discussion about the various types of traditional and contemporary puppets followed.

We then began the actual hands-on workshop – where it was time for each of us to design and make our own shadow puppet from thick card. I designed a character based on a traditional character, however it did have some contemporary elements. The teachers created some fantastic shadow puppets and throughly enjoyed playing with them and creating shadows on the screen.

The whole three hours of the session, was so enjoyable…it just took me back to Indonesia and everything I love about it – the arts and beliefs! And it took me back to the creative world that I was once so into. It was a treat for the soul to be back in that world again.

As the session ended I personally met Made Sidia and had a chat with him, which was an absolute honour. I hope that one day I will be able to visit Made and his family in his village. Sounds like a plan in the making…a few days in Gianyar next time I am in Bali…hmm…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *