Hanggara Prasetya, Contributor, The Jakarta Post
A cultural city, Yogyakarta is the home of many young men concerned with art, one of whom is Danang Setyo Budi. Danang is one of Yogyakarta's Wayang Kancil (the Mouse and Deer shadow puppet play) puppeteers.
Danang actually has three roles in his life: being a university student, a security guard and a puppeteer. But he is deeply attached to his cultural traditions and feels increasingly challenged to help preserve at least one part of his ancestors' legacy.
Before he tried his hand at being a Wayang Kancil puppeteer, Danang was a Wayang Purwa puppeteer, in which the shadows of leather puppets are projected on to canvas. Based on his experience as a Wayang Purwa puppeteer, Danang, now thirty, one day decided to turn his attention to Wayang Kancil.
His passion for Wayang Kancil began in 2002 when he attended a Wayang Kancil performance. After watching it twice, Danang decided to devote himself to this particular type of puppet show. He realized, however, that his decision was a gamble of sorts because Wayang Kancil was then yet to be popular. He said that this decision was just a response to his own belief that he should help preserve Javanese cultural and artistic traditions.
A year after he became acquainted with Wayang Kancil, Danang was brave enough to perform in public. He will never forget August 17, 2003, the date of his maiden Wayang Kancil performance.
Danang is a self-made puppeteer. He learnt many of his skills by consulting frequently with shadow puppeteers and watching puppet shows as often as possible. In a way, he is the unofficial disciple of some noted shadow puppet masters.
Although he is a puppeteer, Danang is also a security guard at the School of Cultural Sciences at Gadjah Mada University. In 2001, Danang was a student in the Diploma Three Program in the Department of Archives at the School of Cultural Sciences at the University. His job as a security guard at did not make him feel inferior to other students. Instead, he was quite popular among the students.
Danang has now performed about 20 times but he believes he can still improve his skills. That's why he regularly rehearses together with other puppeteers at Minomartani Cultural Center, where most of his performances have taken place. To improve his skill as a puppeteer, Danang has also collaborated with a puppet master of Wayang Purwa several times. Usually, Danang opens a Wayang Purwa performance.
Danang is quite flexible about the length of his performance. He never sets a particular period of time. If he gets a good response from the audience, he will happily perform longer than usual.
His record show time is about four hours. Once, however, he performed for only half an hour. Danang also employs an interactive technique to build communication with his audience. In this way, he will know in which direction the audience expects the story will go. Often he also asks his audience to add their own story to the one he is performing.
The stories that Danang performs as Wayang Kancil are not entirely taken from existing fables. He often inserts stories related to the current social situation as moral messages. He knows that to be able to insert popular topics in his Wayang Kancil stories, he must keep abreast with the latest news from the mass media.
Through his experience as a Wayang Kancil puppeteer, Danang has been inspired to introduce his own innovations to this particular art form. Aside from changing the nature of the stories, he has also altered the musical accompaniment. In this way, there will always be an element of freshness in his performances.
He believes that Wayang Kancil, just like Wayang Purwa, is part of his ancestors' legacy but feels sad that the society is yet to properly appreciate Wayang Kancil.
It is Danang's hope - no, his belief - that some day Wayang Kancil will be on a par with Wayang Purwa.