Shadow Puppet Screens Traditional Balinese Performance Goes Virtual at Wake Forest

Dr. I Gusti Putu Sudarta was unable to perform on campus in March due to coronavirus conditions. Not to be deterred, she performs virtually here. Wayang means both "shadow" and "imagination." These show are traditionally projected onto a taut fabric screen. This year, we're sharing the performance on your screen. Enjoy the show!


Dr. I Gusti Putu Sudarta, dalang (shadow master) accompanied by members of Gamelan Raga Kusuma, directed by Dr. Gusti Sudarta and Dr. Andy McGraw. Coming to you from the Gamelan studio at the University of Richmond, Virginia, March 2020.

Wayang (‘shadow’) Kulit (‘skin’) are flat leather puppets made from carved and painted rawhide. The wayang kulit form as it is performed on the islands of Java and Bali in Indonesia is at least 1000 years old and may have historical connections to shadow puppet forms known in India. The stories are primarily drawn from the Hindu Mahabharata and Ramayana epics but also include local legends (babad) and tales such as the Tantri stories, from which many of Aesop’s fables are drawn.

Wayang Kulit is a sacred genre, performed for special ceremonies and in the inner courtyards of Balinese temples. However, it is also mass entertainment and besides philosophical and religious instruction, wayang also includes a healthy dose of bawdy humor and manic fight scenes. In Balinese contexts audiences wander informally around the performance, occasionally viewing from the front to watch the shadows, occasionally sitting behind the screen with the musicians to watch the puppeteer.

Balinese shadow play includes an extensive overture of instrumental music, mantram, and dances by the kayonan, the abstract “tree-of-life” that creates the universe of the shadow play through its motions. The story proper begins approximately 15 minutes after the music starts. The tale of Sutasoma is understood in Bali to be a Hindu-Buddhist legend, occurring chronologically after the narrative typically recounted in the Hindu Mahabharata epic.