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The Dhalang

Gideon is sitting right next to a friend of his, whom we can call Mitra. We interrupt them in the middle of a conversation; the show had begun some time ago.

“… Arjuna is a prince, one of the Pandava brothers. Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is his charioteer,” we hear Mitra say.

The epic develops in front of their eyes; the Dhalang sits behind the white kelir, upon which the shadows of the wayangs are projected by means of the light coming from the blencong. 

“See how each has his own movement and way of speaking. This is the work of the Dhalang. Very clever man, very skilled”

“That’s the puppeteer, right?” asked Gideon.

The shadows keep moving, synched to the sounds of the Gamelan. A certain ethereal ambiance surrounds everything.

“Ah, yes, yes,” answered Mitra, “the Dhalang.”

The dream-like atmosphere feels enhanced by soft clouds of smoke.  We hear the metallic sound of the kepyak right before the Gamelan’s pace changes.

“He makes the voices and moves the wayangs,” we hear Mitra say, “He directs the Gamelan musicians. His job is to make us laugh and cry. Very clever man. The Dhalang is more than a puppeteer.”

After a pause, Mitra added “His skill makes us believe that we see a war between two great armies, but there is no war. There is only the Dhalang.”

 

(With special thanks to Grant Morrison, author of the original dialogue, featured in The Invisibles. January, 1995)

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