In conjunction with World Youth Day 2017, ThinkCity and Kuala Lumpur City Hall, in partnership with Seni Pusaka, Lab DNA and Red Archer, and the support of Citi Foundation organised a Malam Wayang (Night Theatre) on 12th August night at the Urbanscapes House in Kuala Lumpur. This Malam Wayang is rather special as it showcases both a contemporary and traditional wayang kulit (shadow theatre) back-to-back with performances by the young ones from the Tree Theatre Group and the Kumpulan Seni Warisan Pusaka Machang. I made it to the venue at 8.45pm due to prior commitments, missed the Tree Theatre Group performance entirely, unfortunately; but in time for the Kumpulan Seni Warisan Pusaka Machang performance. Heartening to know there is quite a number of of wayang kulit fans of all ages out there in Kuala Lumpur as the hall was well filled that night.
The Kumpulan Seni Warisan Pusaka Machang is a famous wayang kulit troupe from Machang, Kelantan led by master story teller Tok Dalang Nawi and master musician Abdul Rahman Dollah, the disciples of the Wayang Kulit Kelantan legend, Pak Dollah Baju Merah. Wayang Kulit Kelantan can be found in Kelantan (of course) and other states along the Peninsular East Coast. Based on tales from the Hikayat Seri Rama (The Ramayana), it is built essentially on four core elements consisting of the tok dalang (master story teller), patung patung (characters), kelir (screen) and muzik (music). The artful and harmonious combination of these elements is the hallmark of an excellent and memorable wayang kulit performance. In former times, an oil lamp is used as the light source; but these days, an electrical light bulb is a typical light source.
After the emcee’s introduction, lights dimmed out and the performance started with the distinctive and beautiful sound of Kelantanese percussive music from the Kumpulan Seni Warisan Pusaka Machang ensemble filling the hall and the wayang kulit screen taking centre stage. As the musical prelude continued, Tok Dalang Nawi appeared to be in a meditative contemplative state briefly before the tale of ‘Kera Bali Bulu Beremas’ unfolds …
The tale of ‘Kera Bali Bulu Beremas’ begins with Raden Lakjuna’s infatuation for a golden hoofed white horse. The white horse is actually a magical white horse that can metamorphose itself into a beautiful princess. As the story goes, Raden Lakjuna fell in love with the beautiful princess and they eventually got married. Months passed and the princess found she was pregnant with their child. The princess was overjoyed with the news, but Raden Lakjuna felt otherwise. Raden Lakjuna was unhappy with the news and became very angry with the princess.
Raden Lakjuna divorced the princess and cruelly punished her, whereupon she felt like giving birth to their baby. With the kind help of midwives from the adobe of gods, the princess successfully gave birth to a son who also possess similar magical powers to metamorphose, just like herself. Years passed and the princess tells her son to look for his father, Raden Lakjuna. The son soon transformed into ‘Kera Bali Bulu Beremas’ and set off to look for his father. The tale continues with chronicles of Kera Bali Bulu Beremas facing numerous encounters and struggles on his journey looking for his father …
The sheer number of episodes within a wayang kulit tale (performance), their storyline, characters, and the respective characters interplay of dialogue, interpretation of emotions and actions therein makes it a complex and demanding craft to master. I believe being gifted with multiple attributes like good memory, voice and both physical and mental dexterity helps immeasurably if one aspires to be an accomplished tok dalang. Physical and mental stamina, strength are also important assets as performances typically take a few hours to conclude.
Tok Dalang Nawi, the master story teller, was a picture of intense concentration as he totally immersed himself into his story telling, adroitly working with the characters and telling the tale from behind a thin fabric screen and its shadows. He was completely in his element, effortlessly bringing the tale and characters to life, ‘losing’ himself in the play, delighting and enthralling the audience with his unique brand of wayang kulit story telling honed through years of disciplined and dedicated practice.
As the tale picks up pace and and drama unfolds, master musician Abdul Rahman Dollah and his men stepped up or slowed down their tempo accordingly to Tok Dalang Nawi’s pace, as the duel between good and evil, love and hate plays out in dramatic fashion with quick sweeping movements, creating some tense and gripping visual moments. The master story teller related the slow parts of the tale with equal finesse, his heartfelt delivery and range giving depth and emotion to the story’s characters. It didn’t feel like it but the tale ran its course for a good 3 hours before concluding close to midnight.
I certainly enjoyed watching my first wayang kulit performance that night, and had a lot of fun shooting the event (i think the same goes for the others who were shooting the event too) as I just love low light/night photography. Big thanks to the organiser(s) for their kind understanding and allowing photography to all. Big thanks too to Syafiq, member of the Kumpulan Seni Warisan Pusaka Machang ensemble who plays the Gendang Anak, for his help closing the loop on certain aspects of the ‘Kera Bali Bulu Beremas’ story I had difficulty following as it was performed in the Kelantanese dialect.
All photos: Fujifilm X-E2 with XF 23mm, XF 35mm & XF 55-200mm