SOKENDAI Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.20 (2024)

Female Performers in Shadow Puppet Theaters
in Central Java:

Direction Strategies of a Male Puppeteer in the Late 2010s and Beyond

KISHI Misaki

Department of Comparative Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI

Key words:

Indonesia, wayang kulit, female performer, dalang, sinden

Traditional Javanese shadow puppet theater (wayang kulit) underwent a notable transformation in the late 2010s. One significant change is the increasing number of puppeteers (dalang) directing performances where sinden, female singers, sing and dance during interludes. In addition, female dalang have garnered growing public attention. This study addresses the case of dalang Ki Cahyo Kuntadi, examining his ideas about empha- sizing sinden to play an active role in the performance and innovative directing methods, as well as his expec- tations in working with female performers. It will also reveal how the roles of dalang and sinden and their relationship changed with the changes of performance. The research methodology includes an interview with Ki Cahyo, participatory observation of the performance, and a comprehensive analysis of relevant YouTube videos.

While the 1990s saw large-scale wayang performances sponsored by the political party Golkar featuring guest stars such as comedians and rock music singers during interludes, the present landscape is marked by a notable change. In addition to external guest stars, sinden, integral performers in the dalang musical ensemble, now take to the stage to sing and dance during interludes.

Since 2017, Ki Cahyo, influenced by other dalang performances and by the fact that a conservative stance became less popular, has strategically incorporated sinden into his performances. His stage direction includes sinden who both sing and dance, Islamic songs, and conversations with sinden. In addition to the performances during the show, he focuses on costumes and video thumbnails in response to the surge in popularity of YouTube, expecting to attract more attention to sinden.

In addition, Ki Cahyo actively supports and promotes female dalang and expects them to play active roles, which contributes to the nurturing of the next generation of female dalang.

In the conclusion, we indicate that dalang’s status will be harmed if excessive emphasis is placed on the siden and guest stars and too much time is spent on intermissions. In recent years, the dalang are increasingly influenced by other performers, which results in changes in the relationships between the dalang and the performers. Sinden are now required not only to sing but also to dance and talk, and must thus possess multi- ple talents.