I attended a wayang golek show yesterday (4 March 2009) at the Yogyakarta kraton. Wayang golek is performed there weekly on Wednesday mornings from around 9.30 am until a little before noon. There are about four puppeteers who take turns - one performing the first Wednesday of the month, another the second etc. The stock of musicians appears to be the same each week.
I have started studying wayang golek here in Yogya with Dewanto, who is a lecturer at the conservatoire ISI Yogyakarta. Dewanto is currently pursuing a PhD on wayang golek at UGM and also created a modern 'teater bonkea' piece for his practical MA at ISI Surakarta. My aim is to acquire the basic manipulation techniques of Yogyakarta-style wayang golek (also known as wayang golek menak) in order to pursue practice-based research on wayang golek cepak in Cirebon starting next year. The forms are closely related - it seems almost certain that wayang golek was imported to Kebumen and Yogyakarta and other parts of south-central Java from the north coast (Tegal, Cirebon etc).
The dalang at yesterday's performance was Dewanto's own father, a Sentolo puppeteer who is one of the better known wayang golek performers here in Yogyakarta. Dewanto's grandfather, named Widi, was also a wayang golek puppeteer, as well as a wayang kulit performer and a juragan sapi who was one of the main informants for the Dutch folklorist JL Moens.
The performance began at roughly 9.40 with a brief talu by the gamelan and lasted until about quarter to twelve. The audience was made up entirely of tourists - both domenstic and foreign - as it required the purchase of a ticket to tour the kraton (Rp 12.500 plus Rp 1.000 to use a camera). Most people - including a whole crew of Indonesian photographers and videographers - stayed only a few minutes, but a few saw the whole show. Before the show an abdi dalem of the kraton said in a very loud voice (in refined Javanese, but audible to everyone present) that the dalang had to make sure to be done before 12 noon - to respect the mid-day prayers - and not to be ngeyel.
The golek animation was superb - with lots of nuanced detail (including a wonderful flying sequence) . But the puppets were sub-standard and because the performance took place in a pendopo called the Bangsal Srimanganti, visitors who were not dressed in Javanese costume and had explicit permission of the kraton were not permitted to mount the pendopo - meaning that the puppets were far away from the spectators. Sound also was not clear - and as a result I had trouble following the story - Sema'un Krama (Sema'un's Wedding), based on an episode of the Serat Purwa Kandha. The dalang has been following the story of Ambiya (aka Amir Hamzah) in sequence for the last 3 years or so, with a new episode every month.
It is fantastic that the kraton has provided the space in its schedule for wayang golek - as this is now the only public venue for performance of this art - and private sponsorship is very rare. But more work perhaps could be done - issuing synopses, announcing the schedule of performers in advance, improving puppet and sound and lighting quality and bringing the puppets closer.