Wayang topeng is a classical Javanese dance-drama genre, in which dancers use elaborately carved and painted masks to perform stories from the romantic Panji cycle. These stories, which relate the adventures of the handsome mythical prince Panji and his fiancée, Princess Candra, are thought to have occurred during the last Hindu-Javanese kingdom, the Majapahit (thirteenth to fifteenth centuries).
Tradition has it that wayang topeng was created in the sixteenth century by Sunan Kalijaga, one of the ninePage 112 | Top of Article legendary Muslim saints who converted Java to Islam by using the highly popular performing arts of the destroyed Hindu-Javanese courts to attract people to their sermons. Following the model of a wayang kulit (shadow-puppet play) enacting the Panji romance, Sunan Kalijaga is said to have created masks for nine dancers who were directed, as was also the case for the shadow-puppet play, by a dalang, or puppeteer.
Nowadays, the performers include a large number of dancers who are accompanied by a huge gamelan (Indonesian percussion instrument) orchestra. Their appearance onstage is introduced and commented on by the dalang in speech and song. Clowns entertain the audience with their jokes and mockeries in interludes between the acts. Wayang topeng has incorporated elements from other classical dance genres like the Serimpi or the Kiprah mask-dance, revered classical Javanese dances, whose origins might date to the time of the Majapahit kingdom. The Serimpi is danced by four girls, usually princesses; the Kiprah is a lively courting dance in which a male dancer impersonates a king. Wayang topeng has been preserved in the court tradition of Surakarta in central Java until today.
Rebling, Eberhard. (1989) Die Tanzkunst Indonesiens. Wilhelmshaven, Germany: Florian Noetzel Verlag, Heinrichshofen-Bücher.
Soedarsono. (1984) Wayang Wong: The State Ritual Dance Drama in the Court of Yogyakarta. Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia: Gadjah Mada University Press.