Puppets and Gamelan at Fusion Fridays!

Maria Bodman Balinese Wayang Kulit

Indonesian shadow puppets. Courtesy of Bali and Beyond.

At our Fusion Friday premiere on May 17, we’ll have a fantastic Indonesian shadow puppet performance accompanied by live gamelan music courtesy of Bali and Beyond. This group was recently here for a Free Family Festival, and was so awesome we couldn’t wait to have them back!

Shadow puppet shows have been performed in various parts of Indonesia for centuries. Made of intricately cut rawhide and bamboo sticks, these shadow puppets are manipulated by a single puppeteer to tell a story. Moving the puppets behind a screen with a lamp suspended behind it, the puppeteer can serve a number of functions– he or she (traditionally male, but not in the case of Bali and Beyond) will handle the puppets, narrate the story and even create sound effects with the feet. This is a complicated task that requires great skill both in performance and multitasking!


Bali and Beyond takes us behind the scenes– even though they’re not seen by the audience, the puppets are brightly painted and the lamp holder is delicately carved.

These shows are traditionally accompanied by gamelan music, which can also accompany dance and other performances and ceremonies. Gamelan is a term for a set of instruments meant to be played together rather than the musicians themselves. These instruments can include gongs, bells, drums, flutes, string instruments and xylophones, all of which are specifically tuned to the other instruments in the gamelan. Each performing group varies in the number and variety of instruments and musical style, particularly by region. For example, Bali’s gamelan gong kebyar is characterized by changing tempo and dynamics very suddenly, while Javanese gamelan is usually slower and more relaxed. The music can sound quite unfamiliar to Western ears because common gamelan musical scales use five or seven unevenly spaced notes to an octave, while the Western chromatic scale has eight evenly spaced notes. The tuning also varies from gamelan to gamelan, so instruments are not interchangeable. Think of it this way– if you play a key on one piano and then on another, they should be the same note if properly tuned. For gamelan instruments, they’ll always be different– the note is completely dependent on the musical scale and tuning of the whole gamelan. Going further, the piano key immediately to the left or right of the first key played would also be the same on two different pianos. For gamelan instruments, that’s not the case either.

At our May 17 premiere of Fusion Fridays, Bali and Beyond will perform a shadow puppet show accompanied by a two-person xylophone gamelan– check them out in the video above. After their performance, they’ll give you a peek behind the scenes and show you how the puppets move, the special effects, and of course the gamelan. Make sure you get your tickets early so you don’t miss out! ~CM


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