Topeng (in Indonesian “mask”) is a traditional Indonesian dance where one or more performers wear a mask. The music present in the show is performed by the band (“gamelan”) that usually includes xylophones, metallophones, drums, bamboo flutes and gongs. The singer can be involved too.

Topeng dance is present on the Indonesian islands of Java, Bali and Madura. It is believed that it was first performed in the 15th century. There are several types of topeng – Balinese, Cirebon, Jogja, Surakarta, Betawi and Malang topeng.

Cirebon topeng
Cirebon topeng

The most famous of all topeng dances is the Balinese topeng. Some people think that its origin lays in ancient ancestor dances where the dancer just shows god's messages. The topeng show actually has two parts. Before the main story there is sometimes an introductory performance that involves masked characters like Topeng Manis (a hero), Topeng Kras (a warrior, representing authorities) and Topeng Tua (a funny old man). What unites these characters is the fact that they do not speak during their show.

The narration of the main story is done by the character called Pensar. He wears the mask that does not cover the mouth. The show can include one or two pensars. Two pensars are there to give different views on the same subject. Main story includes characters who speak and those who don't. There is lot of humour or even local gossip in many of topeng shows.