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  The Plots

The 'dalang' unfolds a six-hour drama in which he continuously narrates, chants poetry, sings, does sound effects, and simultaneously carries on many-sided dialogues. Throughout the presentation the gamelan keeps up a steady accompaniment that echoes, evokes, and amplifies the intertwined themes and actions of the poetic drama.

Since many of the characters and episodes are accompanied by their own appropriate musical theme and mode of articulation, the audience is able to imagine who is talking and exactly where in the story the event is taking place, even without following the dalang's narration.

The appearance of a certain puppet tells the audience immediately just what episode is about to be enacted.

The Mahabharata deals with the feud between two rival royal families, the Pandawas and the Korawas. It's a story of treachery, jealousy, banishment, and a battle so awful that it made "the rivers stand still, the sun pale, and the mountains tremble."

In this classic, the mighty hero Bima unleashes a furious attack on the evil Korawas, who are finally exterminated. Or the play could present the theme of the Ramayana in which Prince Rama tries to rescue his beloved Sita from the clutches of the monster-king, Rawana.

Rama is helped by a great army of monkeys, led by their flamboyant and fearless leader, the white ape Anoman. The two armies meet in a clash so terrible that millions die on both sides. The ranks of the clumsy 'raksasa' are swarmed over by biting, clawing, screaming monkeys and at last give way.

As in the Mahabharata, absolute virtue in the end wins out over absolute evil, without which cosmic order would be unattainable. Modern stories have started to make their appearance on the shadow puppet stage. An example is I Wayan Dibia's experimental Balinization of Racine's Phaedra, complete with raunchy dirty jokes and not-so-oblique jabs at political figures.

You're also beginning to see performances in broken English, which often break up both the Westerners and the Balinese in the audience. These two-language presentations are still in their formative stages, but their supporters believe that they have the potential of becoming a cross-cultural experience for those who don't understand Balinese.

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