Origins, journeys, encounters: a cultural analysis of wayang performances in North America




Hartana, Sutrisno Setya

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This dissertation examines an Indonesian-North American version of an evolving, transnational and hybrid multimedia art form which has come about through forty years of adaptations made by cross-culturally located artists in creative conversation with Indonesian performers involved in the Javanese and Balinese forms of musical theatre known as wayang. Wayang theatre employs puppets and other components including gamelan music (Indonesian percussion instruments, drums, flutes, strings and vocals). Given this complexity, there are many possibilities for variations, changes, and hybridization. In this research project, I analyze aspects of this hybrid performance by analyzing select Indonesian-North American wayang performances, as case studies. In order to isolate complex changes and various adaptations of wayang performances in the North American setting, I also analyze and contextualize a hybridization of Javanese and Balinese wayang performances. As a performance art form, wayang has always been changing historically—at some points more quickly and dramatically than at other periods of time, thus resisting firm categorization that would provide a baseline for comparison. I have developed the wahiyang theoretical framework as an analytical tool to identify the influence of North American culture on the wayang performances in my case studies. I argue that new genre of wayang is emerging, creating a hybridized form that I call wahiyang gaya NA. This process has progressed to the point that wahiyang gaya NA can be said to represent a new genre of multimedia world art, which combines elements of local and global artistic practises, making the form even more flexible and adaptable than its original forms in Indonesia. The gradual spread and popularization of wayang in North America has definite historical contexts, namely the early 19th-to-mid 20th century conjunction of decolonization and Third World nationalism, with the more recent decades’ layering of multiculturalism and push towards conscious cultural responses to economic globalization. This developing continuum of new hybrid forms spans a spectrum of cultural inclusion and expansion of wayang and new components. At times these may be seen as wayang influence upon Western performance practice; at other times an entire Indonesian wayang production with additional elements added from Western music, theater, and other disciplines may be presented. These developments signify an enhanced and expanded exchange of cultural products between the nations of the world, taking place in an expanded space for dialogue between the artists of the developed and developing countries. I will show, using case studies, how this process has produced and is producing a new branch of wayang as part of a continuum of hybridized wayang forms. By examining selected performance collaborations that have taken place over the last 40 years, I will provide a detailed analysis, which for the first time, lays out the components that constitute the variation of wayang art performance that has developed in response to geographical and cultural contexts of the Pacific Northwest of USA and Westcoast Canada.



Cultural, Wayang, Gamelan, Indonesian arts, Indonesian culture, Hybridization of Wayang, Java, Bali, Indonesia, North American Puppets, Puppeteer, Globalization of Gamelan, Dalang, Dhalang,, Performing arts, Puppeteers, Performance, Theatre, Puppets theatre, Theatrical music, Contemporary music, Traditional art, Contemporary arts