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Asep Sunandar Sunarya: Musician & Puppeteer

SMPC hosted a residency and masterclass with Pak Asep and his company in June 2001 which attracted 20 students.  We wish to thank Anna Ingleby of Indigo Moon Theatre and the Asian Music Circuit for making this possible.  A little while after the residency SMPC purchased 20 wayang golek puppets through Anna – old men, clowns, monkeys, heroes, a giant and a western woman – which form part of our permanent display in the foyer.  We owe the development of our own rod puppets for children to the inspiration provided by this visit.  Pak Asep died suddenly and prematurely from a heart attack at the age of 58 years and we still mourn his passing.

The World Encyclopedia of Puppetry published by UNIMA describes him in these terms:

“Indonesian puppet master (dalang) of the Sundanese wayang golek (rod puppet) tradition of West Java. Asep Sunandar Sunarya’s work appears on national television and he has toured nationally and internationally (Ki is an epithet of respect accorded to a senior dalang). He is a grandson of Dalang Johari active in the 1920s-1940s and son of Dalang Abah Sunarya who was the most popular dalang in the l950s-1970s. He was the thirteenth son of his mother, Cucun Jubaedah; other dalang among her children are Ade Kosasih Sunarya, Iden Subasrana Sunarya, Ugan Sunagar Sunarya, Agus Muharam and Imik Sunarya. Asep also studied with Dalang Tjetjep Supriadi (also spelt Cecep Supriadi) of Karawang. Asep’s troupe is Giri Harja III (Mountain of Good Fortune) and is located in Jelekong, Ciparay. Family members, as well as top professional singers and musicians, make up his troupe.

Asep undertook his first performances in the l970s and has been phenomenally popular since the 1980s when he began appearing on television (“Asep Show”), in radio, and making cassettes. He won the Binojakrama contest for best dalang in 1982 and a number of times thereafter. He performed in the United States in 1992 and has since done tours to England and performed and taught at the Institut International de la Marionnette(Charleville-Mézières, France). Asep is especially noted for his innovations in movement, puppet building, and music. His wayang (puppets) do spectacular somersaults in his fight scenes. Asep created a sensation in the 1980s with new ogres who vomit spaghetti or whose heads split open and brains ooze out.

Asep Sunandar Sunarya innovated a new style of gamelan (gong-chime)  orchestra in which, by switching a few keys, musicians can play in different musical modes. Wherever Sundanese culture is known, Asep is a star. His son Dadan is also a dalang and often plays clowning scenes together with the clown puppet Cepot. Asep has done innovative collaborations with Ki Manteb Soedarsono and Slamet Gundono.”

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