Scene on Campus

Behind the screen

Ancient tales, told with shadow puppets and gamelan music.

Bob Handelman

Bob Handelman

View full image

The man sitting cross-legged at the center of this photo is an Indonesian shadow-puppet master. The puppet he’s holding is Arya Dandun Wacana—“one of the spirits that reside in the forest of Mertani,” according to music department lecturer Maho Ishiguro. The story of Mertani is part of the Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic more than 3,000 years old. In this scene, says Ishiguro, Arya “meets with the guardians of the forest as the Pendawa brothers approach to take over and cut down the trees.” (Fittingly, the performance is in Kroon Hall, headquarters of the forestry school.)

Seated behind the puppeteer are musicians playing Yale’s gamelan, an orchestra of traditional Indonesian instruments; most of the players are students in Ishiguro’s class on Indonesian ensemble music. The puppet master is Darsono Hadiraharjo, Ishiguro’s husband and a visiting scholar at Cornell. He’s descended from a long line of Indonesian performing artists: “They go back and back and back,” says Ishiguro, adding, “Every time the stories are told, they are recreated by the puppeteer.”

The comment period has expired.