Javanese Theater Casts Shadows at Hertz
Centuries-Old Tradition Brings to Life Stories and Music of Java
By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
The dhalang sits behind a large, white canvas stretched across a wooden frame. A cadre of puppets is laid out before him, a strong light shines from above and exotic island music fills the air.
Suddenly, the puppets come to life. As their silhouettes flit back and forth across the screen, centuries-old tales unfold before a rapt audience.
This traditional form of storytelling, know as Javanese shadow theater, dates back some 1,000 years and continues to be a popular entertainment in Indonesia, used to celebrate weddings and other important events.
This unique form of entertainment comes to Berkeley's Hertz Hall Saturday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. The performance features shadowmaster Widiyanto Putro, who learned the art of puppeteering from his father and other family members in his native Java.
The puppets, manipulated and voiced by the dhalang, are used to act out historic fables and parables. Members of the gamelan, or orchestra, sit behind the dhalang, playing gongs, metallophones, drums and other instruments.
Putro begins by arranging his puppets against banana tree trunks that are tied to the bottom of the screen -- good characters on the right and bad to the left. He moves them across the screen to create action and plunges the long handles of the puppets into the tree trunk when they are stationary.
Putro changes his voice and diction to represent different characters. While the dialogue is normally presented in Javanese, he provides some English translation via a clown or servant puppet during Saturday's performance.
According to Ben Brinner, associate professor of music, a traditional shadow theater production can last up to nine hours, beginning in the evening and continuing until the wee hours of the next morning. Saturday's performance, he said, will last approximately three hours.
Audience members will be able to move from their seats to the either side of the stage to get a closer look at how this magical form of entertainment is created. Gamelan Sari Raras, which includes music department students and alumni as well as community members, will provide the music, while Brinner and Santosa, a graduate student in ethnomusicology, direct the production.
For the Berkeley engagement, Putro presents an episode from the Mahabharata, in which Bima, strongest of the five Pandawa brothers, attempts to reclaim their patrimony from their cousins, the Korawas. Along the way, Bima encounters a spirit-infested forest, a love-sick ogress, heated battles and supernatural transformation.
Tickets for the show are $6, $8 and $12; call 642-9988.