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Wayang – the traditional shadow puppet theatre
There is some magic hidden behind a small stage. People sitting in front of a white curtain, waiting. The story goes whispered with strong voices, played with the gamelan sounds, showed by the shadows...

Wayang is a form of the traditional Indonesian drama performance. The word literally means 'shadow' in javanese language, but today it is mostly associated with the puppets used during the play themselves. There is many variations and forms of wayang and throughout the country it plays an important role in the culture heritage of Indonesia (listed by UNESCO in 2003).

In wayang kulit puppets are crafted from a thin buffalo skin and mounted on a bamboo sticks. They are being navigated from behind the scene by a man known as dalang – the puppet master. He narrates the whole story, builds the right suspense atmosphere by modulating his voice and holds all the puppets. Figures appear on the prepared screen, that is lighted by the oil lamp (historically) or a halogen electric light (nowadays). The story scenarios are usually based on the classic Hindu eposes: Ramayana and Mahabharta, but sometimes also on the local tales, myths and legends. Wayang performance can take several hours or even the whole night long. The language spoken during the performance is the old javanese dialect, that is why audience often receives translations into modern indonesian language or simply knows the story by heart.

Figures of puppets are being handcrafted by local artists and it takes a couple of weeks to prepare one figure for a performance. The figure outline is presented on a paper model and then transfer into a skin-carved pieces. Later on movable parts (such as arms and legs) are being attached to the body and the puppet is smoothed with a glass bottle and primed. Finally, they are painted in various colours. Preparing of classic and more expensive puppets is a handwork from beginning to the end. The cheaper versions are being made with the help of templates, spray and worse quality materials. Figures shapes and details can vary a bit, depending on the island. The most famous style of puppets, that is widely imitated, comes from the Central Java and cities of Yogyakarta and Solo (Surakarta).

Next to the best-known wayang kulit, there are also other popular types of wayang, like wayang golek (where the figures are made of wood), wayang topeng (where actors performing the drama wear masks on their faces) or wayang beber (where the story is pictured on a big scrolled paintings).

Wayang is a unique combination of a ritual, moral lesson and entertainment. The good always wins with the evil, but the later is never totally destroyed from the world, as the proper balance and harmony have to be kept. While spending your time in Indonesia, is definitely worth to see at least a part of the wayang performance to experience its special atmosphere. The theatre takes place usually along with some big culture and art festivals, like the annual Bali Arts Festival held between June and July.
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