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Javanese Dance and Drama

Ramayana Jatilan Wayang Kulit
Wayang Golek Wayang Wong Ketoprak

No visit to Yogyakarta would be complete without witnessing some of the dances and drama that have shaped the lives and culture of so many. Whilst, there is no shortage of dances to see, below are some of the most interesting and certainly most popular amongst the local population.

A classic story of good over evil, the full blown Ramayana epic adventure is something not to be missed. This spectacular dance replete with several characters all in different and gorgeous costumes is taken from the Ramayana epic and tells how the evil King Rahwana uses trickery to kidnap Rama's wife Dewi Sita and how Rama, with the help of the white monkey army, rescues his wife and defeats evil. Performed under the stars at the open air theatre at Prambanan Temple and accompanied by a full gamelan orchestra, the Ramayana is a truly memorable event.

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Indonesia has many trance dances and the Jatilan is one such dance. Using a flat hobbyhorses made from woven bamboo, Jatilan dancers 'ride' their stead to the sound of drums whipping the 'horse'and themselves into a trance - eventually rolling around on the ground, eating glass bottles and so on. Not for everyone (parents should be mindful of letting especially young children watch).

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Wayang Kulit
The Wayang (puppet) Kulit (leather) is not a dance but is still one of our favorites. The Wayang Kulit are leather shadow puppets and this cultural treat is often overlooked by the tour operators because there are no flashy  costumes. The "stage" is quite small - really only a bed sheet with a lantern illuminating it from behind so you will need to sit close.

Whilst the performances are in Indonesian and Javanese, the average tourist will have no idea what is being said but no matter, in this intimate night setting you will get a good idea of how this ancient tradition is still performed in the villages throughout Indonesia. This is Indonesian story telling at its best - and has often been used as a way to poke fun at the powers that be. Accompanied by a gamelan, drum and gong, the Dalang (puppet master) commands up to 50 puppets made of flat pieces of dried leather. Since each puppet must have a different voice and have a different 'personality' (i.e. funny, smart, stupid, kind and so on) you can see why the Dalang is a clever man indeed.

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Wayang Golek
The Wayang (puppet) Golek (doll) is similar to the Wayang Kulit but using colourful three-dimensional wooden puppets dressed in character (silk for rich folks, rags for beggars) with movable heads, arm and hands that manipulated by a Dalang (puppet master) to the same effect as shadow puppet however there is no shadow screen - and it is quite tricky to get the movements just right. Incidentally, the Wayang Golek are sold every where and make beautiful souvenirs, so watching the show will give you a greater appreciation should wish to buy them.

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Wayang Wong
More theatre than dance, The Wayang (puppet) Wong (man) is a very popular form of drama takes place of a set stage where the characters use either the Mahabharata or Ramayana epic as a storyline and then unfold their own plot with long dialogues. Whilst it may be interesting to see the set up and the watch the audience, as with the Wayang Kulit and Wayang Golek, the Wayang Wong is performed in Indonesian or often, Javanese language and casual visitors will find it very hard to understand.

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Part theatre opera and dance the Ketoprak is a very popular form of theatre for the common Javanese as they got to play royalty for awhile. Originating in Solo in the 1910's the dance takes its name from the sound of rice pestles beating the mortar (prak, prak, prak...) that was once the background music. The gamelan is now the most common musical accompaniment.

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Yogyakarta Hotels - gamelan
Yogyakarta Dance

In many cultures dance and drama are important to pass on customs and mores from one generation to the next. Such is true in Indonesia where dance & drama has historically been used to pass down cultural values through the tales of Ramayana, Mahabarata and other epic stories from Indonesian mythology.

It is interesting to note that the Javanese never tire of watching these dances even though they may have seen them hundreds of times before and know each movement by heart.

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