Miguel Romero
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JAVA (March 27 - April 15)

Yogyakarta - Dr. Supardjian

On my arrival in Java, I was eager to attend a wayang golek performance. This is the Javanese rod puppet style. The plays are based on the same Ramayana sources as wayang kulit, the shadow puppets found on both Bali and Java. Their movable carved wooden heads, rod-manipulated arms with joints at the shoulder and elbow, and elaborate costumes, distinguish Wayang golek puppets. The rods and the many movable elements allow for very flexible and sometimes wonderfully realistic movement in the hands of a skilled dalang.

My puppetry experiences in Yogyakarta were incredibly enriched by Dr. Supardjian, a retired performing arts teacher, whose name had been given to me by his a classmate, an Indonesian puppeteer from Jakarta who had performed at UMass a few years previously. Supardjian lives in a modest house on the grounds of the Kraton, the sultan’s "palace", a compound that is a city within the city. The house is decorated with some beautiful puppets.

After serving me tea, Supardjian offered to take me to visit a first-rate puppet maker and also a mask carver outside the city where he correctly assured me I would find work of the highest quality. He also recommended the performances that were worth seeing that week in Yogya: the Ramayana Ballet, a wayang golek performance in the Sultan’s palace and (I misunderstood) a wayang kulit performance there on the following day. He also promised to take me to the school of performing arts where he taught.

Supardjian and I arrived at the puppet maker’s workshop too late (and too dark) to see the artisans at work. However, Supardjian was right - these were the highest quality shadow puppets that I had seen for sale. The puppet maker showed me around the workshop, where I could see works-in-progress. It was most fascinating to see the sheets of raw buffalo hide and then the finished tooled leather puppets prior to being painted. I was able to purchase samples to show my students and well as some splendid puppets.

By the time we were back in the car, it was pitch black. Supardjian announced that he would take me to the mask carver’s workshop, even though it would be too dark to see anything. The main object would be for our driver to know how to find it the following day. We pressed on further into the country and drove down a deeply rutted dirt lane that ran along rice fields to a small unlit village and a dark little compound that was the Warno Waskito mask carvers’ workshop.

The studio belongs to two brothers: one a serious carver and businessman, the other more artistic and also a dancer and puppeteer. They were charming, and there was a wonderful feeling in the cramped dark workshop with masks covering the walls. The Javanese masks are quite different from the Balinese ones. The features are often very fine and delicate, and the eyes are the key to character’s social status. The eye shapes denote whether they are princes, soldiers, or villains. Skin tones are in a broad range of colors: white, reds, greens, etc., with gold and black highlights. We agreed to return the next afternoon after the wayang golek performance at the Kraton. I inquired if the carver would agree to let me come and study carving with him for three days at the end of my stay in Yogya.

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