Power Plays — 2004

Wayang Golek Puppet Theater of West Java

By Andrew N. Weintraub

“This volume is brimming with interesting material. I know of no other study of contemporary performing arts in Indonesia that goes so deeply into the politics of meaning within such a complex genre.”

R. Anderson Sutton — author of Calling Back the Spirit: Music, Dance, and Cultural Politics in Lowland South Sulawes

“With its thorough, integrative approach to performance, politics, and media, this book provides a stimulating model for future ethnography and scholarship on the performing arts in Asia.”

Journal of Asian Studies

Based on ethnographic fieldwork spanning twenty years, Power Plays is the first scholarly book in English on wayang golek, the Sundanese rod-puppet theater of West Java. It is a detailed and lively account of the ways in which performers of this major Asian theatrical form have engaged with political discourses in Indonesia. Wayang golek has shaped, as well, the technological and commercial conditions of art and performance in a modernizing society.

Using interviews with performers, musical transcriptions, translations of narrative and song texts, and archival materials, author Andrew N. Weintraub analyzes the shifting and flexible nature of a set of performance practices called Padalangan, the art of the puppeteer. He focuses on “superstar” performers and the musical troupes that dominated wayang golek during the New Order political regime of former president Suharto (1966-98) and the ensuing three years of the post-Suharto period. Studies of actual performances illuminate stylistic and formal elements and situate wayang golek as a social process in Sundanese culture and society. Power Plays includes an interactive multimedia CD-ROM of wayang golek.

Power Plays shows how meanings about identity, citizenship, and community are produced through theater, music, language, and discourse. While based in ethnographic theory and methods, this book is at the center of a new synthesis emerging among ethnomusicology, anthropology, and cultural studies. Its cross-disciplinary approach will inspire researchers studying similar struggles over cultural authority and popular representation in culture and the performing arts.


Picture of Andrew N. Weintraub

Andrew N. Weintraub is an assistant professor of music at the University of Pittsburgh. His articles have appeared in edited collections, encyclopedias, and journals, including Ethnomusicology, Asian Music, Asian Theatre Journal IndonesiaM, and Perfect Beat. As a practitioner of Indonesian gamelan and martial arts, he has performed in the United States, Canada, Asia, and Europe.

  • Finalist for the 2006 Harry J. Benda Prize in Southeast Asian Studies
Cover of 'Power Plays'

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