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Malaysian Theater Arts

In the land of Malaysia, theater arts developed in the east Javanese kingdoms. During the eleventh century the capital of Javanese kingdom was shifted from Prambanan located in central Java to Jenggla located in eastern Java. This kingdom was divided into four parts namely Jenggala, Kediri, Ngurawan and Singasari . The four sons of the King Airlangga named King Lembu Amiluhur, King Lembu Amerdadu, King Lembu Mangarang and King Amijaya, respectively, ruled each of them. There are three forms of Malaysian theater arts namely Wayang Orang or performance by human actors, Wayang kulit or shadow puppetry, Wayang golek or three dimentional puppetry and classical court dance known as Karaton. And they flourished separately in each kingdom.

The other name for Wayang Orang is Wayang Wong that involves human actors performing live on stage in a musical dance drama. “Wong” or “Orang” means a man or a woman respectively. It was nurtured in the Kingdom of King Lembu Amiluhur. His son Raden Panji Asmarabangun was a renowned artist in himself. He taught this art to all his relatives.

The storyline of the play revolved around the Jenggala Kingdom and Hindu mythologies Mahabharata and Ramayana. Another variety of Wayang Orang is Wayang Topeng or Wayang Gedog where the artists wear mask during the performance. Majapahit Kingdom was another kingdom that played a vital role in the recognition of Wayang wong as the King Hayam Wuruk was a performer of this art himself. There are five categories of the pattern of dance according to build and movements. Alus, which involves graceful and soft movements required performers to have a light physique. Gagah had more sportive moves and the artists were expected to have a slim and tall physique. Kasar was meant for actors with huge build and the movements were rough. Gecul had subcategories Ponokawan and Cantrik. Dengklik involved actors playing the role of monkey warrior. The dresses differ with different gods, kings, ksatrias, princesses, begawans and warriors.

According to the role being played forty-five accessories are being used. There were separate dance movements for the female actors. The movements made by the females are known as Nggruda that had nine basic movements known as Joged Pokok and additional twelve movements known as Joged Gubahan. These art forms at first were meant only for the royal families. Many kings and their relatives used to perform plays written on their ancestors in order to honor them. Poor people had no access to these plays. Under reign of King Airlangga, great encouragement was given to various arts forms and that is when puppet art began evolving. Wayang purwa or Wayang kulit involves two-dimensional puppets made from the skin of goat or buffalo. They are flat and usually round in shape. The shadow of these puppets is cast on a translucent cloth screen with the help of lighted lamps.

They are controlled by bamboo sticks attached to their body that are planted in banana stems located underneath the screen. Wayang golek involves three-dimensional puppets that are controlled by the puppeteers from the top. These puppets are usually made out of wood or leather with some kind of stuffing. UNESCO honored the Wayang puppets in the year 2003 as “The Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” saying that it is one of the unique forms of theater arts and thus should be protected. Karaton is the classical court dance. Karaton can be performed either in-group known as Yogyakarta or it can be also performed as solo. Some of the dances were performed on a daily basis in the court and some were meant only for special occasions like festivals and functions. Prambanan Ramayana ballet is the special dance involving around two hundred dancers who dance for two whole hours. It is held under a full moon during the spring season. The eight-century Prambanan temple is painted in the background and gamelan music is played.

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