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  • Embodied Communities: Dance Traditions and Change in Java
  • Kathy Foley
Embodied Communities: Dance Traditions and Change in Java. By Felicia Hughes-Freeland. New York: Berghahn Books, 2008. 304 pp. 30 illus., bibliography, index. Cloth, $90.00.

This book will be of interest to anyone following Javanese court performance at the end of the twentieth century. It gives fine movement analysis and interpretation of the dance from the position of a dancer who has been studying the art since the late 1970s and does for the Yogyakarta court (especially female dance) services what Clara Brakel-Papenhuijzen's 1992 book Behayaha Court Dances of Central Java (Leiden: E. J. Brill) did for the Solo court tradition. The author has long worked with major figures of the Yogya court arts and been an engaged observer as dance has negotiated contemporary vicissitudes. The abundance of anecdote, performance description, social context, and understanding of dance's importance to the performers is firm. Hughes-Freeland sees court dance as a spiritual art, building an aesthetic principle of rasa that is part of a lahir-batin ("container-essence") whole person (p. 246). The author is aware of current academic trends, which position performance in cultural studies and often define practices via materialist self-interests and class-interests. The book remains true to the informants' testimonies, which do not fit well with these academic analysis trends. Therefore it is odd that much of the opening chapter is devoted to discussing such theories, which the author will eventually eschew as she argues agency and nonmaterial explanations for the practices. When Hughes-Freeland writes from "inside" the dance practice (her own experience of moving, training, etc.) or explains the ideas of her teachers, her work is excellent. As she launches into academically popular subjects (tourism and dance, "imagined communities"), the work, while still including important data, sometimes seems more driven by Western academic discourse than Javanese practice.

The book opens with theory, noting Foucault, Turner, Bordieu and others. After sorting through different possibilities she finds de Certeau's work, which allows for resistance in the context of discipline, closest to what [End Page 182] she has experienced in Javanese court performance. Hughes-Freeland wants to maintain the free agency of a dancer (moving within the discipline of a set form). As a reader I found the discussion to be delayed entrance into the more important material, as many theories were discussed only to reject them. Hughes-Freeland also sometimes elides Java and Indonesia in this section, but this perspective of Java as unitary and representing the archipelago Hughes-Freeland herself will later complicate when she discusses differences of Yogya with Solo. The dynamics of Javanese court ideals are, of course, not uniformly shared by the millions of non-Javanese. Once the author leaves this more general section, the reading becomes rich, and this makes this book important reading for anyone interested in Javanese performing arts.

The second and third chapters give the history of dance in the colonial period using the reign of Hamankubuwana VIII (r. 1921–1939) as a high point. The late colonial period offers the clearest documentation of Javanese court performance. Hughes-Freeland is careful to note that these arts are not static, and she discusses the important transition of dance from a court to a noncourt practice through institutions such as Krida Beksa Wirama, which began teaching dance outside the court in 1918, and the Tamansiswa school movement, which incorporated dance in the curriculum. As Hughes-Freeland discussed the reign of Hamankabuwana IX (r. 1940–1988), the national hero of the revolution, she gives us titles that beg for more explication—for example, the "Virgin Mary Bedhaya" or the "Revolution Bedhaya" of 1959. One hopes to hear more of these choreographies in her future work.

Hughes-Freeland raises the possible use of dance as social climbing—but following her informants does not expand on this topic. She discusses the development of the high schools and academies of dance (starting with ASTI in 1950 [now ISI], KONRI in 1961, and dance programs at the IKIP teacher training schools). She addresses the important training groups of Mardawa Budaya (founded in 1971) under the innovative choreographer Rama...