This essay deals with the musical collaboration between dalang (puppeteer) and penabuh (musicians) in the performance of the Balinese shadow puppet theatre wayang kulit, perhaps the most demanding of Bali's rich performing arts. The multi-faceted skills of the dalang include a command of music, singing, improvisation, and percussive accompaniment, manipulation of the figures, ritual understanding, comic wit, and narrative insight. Without the support of the skillful musicians, however, the puppeteer's presentation could not be realized. How the dalang cues and collaborates with the musicians is central to the success of the show. This article will both share the musical features of performance and discuss the cueing that facilitates communication between puppeteer and musicians.
The music of the wayang kulit falls into three major types. The first group consists of songs where both the puppeteer and the musicians are constrained by the preset structure of a performance. These songs will be termed "structural" for the purposes of this paper. The second group is dictated by the way the dalang chooses to present his story, and these songs I will call "dramatic." The final group will be designated "ritual," as the pieces are used in the ritual practice of creating holy water. The performers communicate with each other somewhat differently in each of these performances elements, and the contrast between the puppeteer-musician relationship during structural versus dramatic pieces, or during dramatic versus ritual songs, helps us to understand how dramatic tension is built and resolved musically in this important theatre.