Sunday, August 5, 2012

Wayang golek cepak studies

I am in Cirebon currently - my daughter Hannah is study batik with Mang Katura in Trusmi and I am using the opportunity to do some practical studies of wayang golek cepak, a rod puppet theatre tradition found here an in a number of neighbouring kabupaten on Java's north coast (Indramayu, Brebes, Tegal). This is an endangered art - though the dalang Ki Enthus Susmono from Tegal has had some recent success in reviving it under the label of Wayang Santri.  There are only about 4 or 5 practising dalang in Cirebon -- 3 of them who live in Pegagan, where I am studying. Stories are mostly set in the time of the wali and focus on conflicts between the forces of Islam under Sunan Jati and Hindu kingdoms such as Galuh and Pajajaran. There are also a number of stories set in more recent times (Raden Untung, Prang Kedongdong) and the occasional Menak and Damarwulan story.

I've been working on a single lakon - Arya Kemuning - which was the first story studied by my teacher Dalang Calim - who is one of the two sons of Dalang Marta performing professionally. Marta was perhaps the most famous dalang golek in Cirebon in the 1990s when I was doing my doctoral fieldwork on wayang kulit, and so while this is the first time I've had a chance to work with him, I've known members of his family and his musicians for some time now.

I am enjoying so far the experience of studying a lot - and am making quick progress. The basic storytelling techniques are identical with wayang kulit, though there are a different set of sulukan to learn and also a different sort of lagu prang that accompanies battle scenes. The characters though all new follow wayang kulit patterns - so Arya Kemuning the main character in the story I am doing has the same style of speech and many of the characteristics of Bambang Sumantri from the Lokapala cycle; Arya Kiban has the same speech and movement style as Klana/Rahwana; Jaya Ningrat, the  king of Galuh, follows the patterns of Duryudana while his advisor Sanghyang Sutem is basically a Drona type; Sunan Jati speaks in the style of Samiaji. I have been working daily with Calim and a saron player (who is himself from a puppeteer family).

Calim was initially sceptical about my being able to get the hang of wayang golek. A number of other dalang in Cirebon have attempted to make the transfer from wayang kulit to wayang golek without much success. Haji Mansyur tried to study golek for 2 years and failed, Bahani also made a stab at performing but could not get beyond a basic level and gave it up. I have the advantage though of having had a week of lessons with Asep Sunandar Sunarya (in 2003 at the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre), a number of lessons with Dewanto (in 2009 in Yogyakarta) and lots of time playing around with golek puppets in my own collection. So I have some understanding of basic manipulation techniques already.

My first lesson with Calim on 2 August involved selecting the puppets, seeing the story demonstrated in an abbreviated form by Calim and trying out a few sulukan. In my second lesson on 3 August I made a stab at doing the whole story myself. I made numerous mistakes of course, and had some trouble with language (it's been more than 2 years since I've performed in Cirebon Javanese) but was able to get through it with enough success that Calim said I was about as good as his own dalang awan. I was so excited that I made a wrong turn on my way back and rode north on my rented motorcycle to Karangampel instead of south to Cirebon! In my third lesson I repeated the lakon. I was more free in my presentation - making some alterations in plot details (not all of which Calim condoned), incorporating topical references with jibes to Calim and the saron player etc. I was also coaxed by the saron player to improvise a dialogue between him and Lamsijan (the local equivalent of Cepot). This was pretty thrilling again to me - the clown Lamsijan is still a new character for me but I am getting the hang of how to perform with him quickly.

I am aiming to do a wayang awan performance of Arya Kemuning at the end of my stay. Pretty ambitious but Calim thinks this is achievable.

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