The bombing of the Sari Club on Legian Street, Kuta, Bali, on 12 October 2002 disrupted the natural balance that is sought for in Balinese religion. This article shows how a technically innovative shadow puppet performance that responds to the disaster is informed by the Balinese conception of the natural balance of human life governed by tri hita karana (three elements of harmony) and dasanama kerta (ten elements that cause harmonious prosperity). These ideas provide a context for healing through performance.
I Nyoman Sedana is a faculty member and chairman of the Pedalangan Theatre Department at the Indonesian Institute of Arts (ISI) Denpasar. He received his BA from the Dance Academy of Arts (ASTI) Denpasar, SSP from STSI-Denpasar, MA from Brown University, and PhD from the University of Georgia. As a Balinese dalang (puppet master) and dancer, Sedana has performed wayang and other Balinese theatrical forms in Europe, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Brazil, and the United States.
How can theatre help resolve the suffering that comes in the wake of a terrorist attack on innocent people? A performance of wayang kontemporer (contemporary shadow theatre) called Wayang Dasanama Kerta (Wayang of the Ten Elements) was presented 4 January 2003 in Kuta, Bali, in the same area where a bomb killed hundreds of people when the Sari Club disco was blown up by Islamic fundamentalists linked to the al Qaeda network on 12 October 2002. This performance by Sanggar Paripurna Bonasari Gianyar Company was also telecast by Bali TV on 9 January 2003, expanding the viewership to the entire island, and was followed by interactive dialogue between the audience calling from home and the main dalang (puppet master/narrator) Sidia in the TV studio. The intention of the performance was to release inhabitants of Kuta and all Bali from the psychic damage of the blast and to restore a sense of harmonious well-being. While the performance was theatrically innovative and technologically experimental, it rose from a traditional root of theatre in Balinese culture. Wayang's exorcistic potential merged with modern artistic innovation to help make a shattered world whole.
Directed and narrated by Dalang Made Sidia and electronically arranged by Dewa Darmawan, this innovative shadow puppet show employed modern technology including LCD, video, and electric lighting in place of the traditional coconut oil lamp. Both creators are faculty members of the Theatre (Padalangan) Department of the Indonesian Arts Institute (Institut Seni Indonesia), formerly called the State College of the Arts (STSI) in Denpasar. Both have shown long-term commitment to new technology in creating innovative performance. At the same time Sidia is well trained in traditional performance and its repertoire. He is the son of Dalang Sidja, one of the most respected puppet masters on the island, who is an expert in the philosophical and religious issues of wayang parwa (shadow theatre). Sidia is, therefore, trained in traditional knowledge, but simultaneously among the most technologically experimental of dalang, because of his frequent collaboration with international artists such as Dalang Sri Joko (Java), theatrical directors Kent Deveraux (United States) and Nigel Jamieson (England), and composers Paul Garbowsky and Peter Wilson (University of Melbourne, Australia). Although the theatrical choices can be debated, his work exemplifies the ability of traditional arts to be born anew in the hands of talented artists.
Technical and Other Innovations
Before turning to the issues of story and philosophy, which are rooted in traditional religious and life practices of the island, I will discuss some of the choices in technology and organization of the production. This will help clarify innovations that are current in Balinese performances of artists trained in the high school and university of performing arts.
Balinese wayang parwa puppet theatre is traditionally controlled by one central artist, a dalang, who is accompanied by a small group of musicians, usually a quartet, that plays on bronze-keyed percussive instruments (gender wayang). The puppet master manipulates all the puppets, sings songs that set the mood of the scene, delivers the dialogue and narration, and makes sounds on the wooden puppet chest via foot taps with a wooden hammer to cue musicians, create sound effects, and create percussive interest. The light is the blencong (coconut oil lamp), whose flame makes shadows that seem to breathe with life as the fire flickers. The screen width approximates the arm span of the performer, and the puppeteer sits about a foot and a half behind the screen with the lamp just above his forehead. The shadows are precise, because of the closeness of the performer and puppet to both light source and screen. Mystical effects can be created by pulling the figure away from the screen and toward the lamp, making the shadow grow instantly to encompass the whole screen. The fact that one person is in charge of narration, dialogue, singing, percussion, and movement, as well as various ritual actions required by the genre, makes everything …