is a theatrical opera that combines storytelling and choreography. Each scene is developed to ensure that the audience understands the story easily. Actors’ dialogues follow a rhythmic pattern, with musicians supporting this type of delivery. The script often makes use of Malay similes and metaphors.
Versatility is a key element of bangsawan, and this is seen in many aspects. Actors have to be proficient in skills like singing, comedy, and martial arts. They have to improvise while playing the role of stock characters such as the orang muda (hero) or rajah (kings), and also be fluent in the dance movements specific to each character. For example, the hero has to portray traits such as courage and gallantry in his performances. The dance styles used are wide-ranging as well, from Malay traditional dances such as the joget to European ones like the foxtrot.
Songs in a bangsawan performance are often designed, and even improvised, to get the most out of a scene. The lagu tarik, also known as a drag song, relies on its melodious nature to amplify melodrama while the lagu hambat or obstructed song is used when the story has to be shortened due to unfavourable conditions, such as rain during an open-air theatre performance. The music is provided by a backing orchestra that draws on Malay, Arabic, Javanese, Indian, and popular European tunes, depending on the background of the story.The costumes and sets used in bangsawan accentuate the differences between the characters’ social classes. Those representing the nobility typically wear regal attire in bright colours, while characters of a lower social status wear simpler outfits in muted shades. Similarly, furnishings and background paintings tell the audience where the action is taking place: a palace or a common man’s dwellings.
All these different elements have to be woven together delicately to create a bangsawan performance worthy of its majestic nature.