- The Dance That Makes You Vanish: Cultural Reconstruction in Post-Genocide Indonesia by Rachmi Diyah Larasati
Rachmi Diyah Larasati’s dense and complex book, The Dance That Makes You Vanish: Cultural Reconstruction in Post-Genocide Indonesia is an original and provocative account of the entangled relation between culture and politics in Indonesia, which draws on her own experiences as a dancer, choreographer, researcher and student in Indonesia, Cambodia, and the US. Born in East Java, Larasati worked as a dance lecturer in a prestigious arts academy in central Java before going to the US for her doctorate. Dance is the foundation of her practical knowledge, and orientates her account of Indonesian culture and politics following the murder of six generals and an officer in Jakarta on September 30, 1965. This so-called “coup” was blamed on the Indonesian communist party (PKI), and its members and numerous others were murdered or imprisoned. Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, was overthrown, and his successor, President Suharto, led a 31-year-long “New Order” regime, controlling his citizens with reminders of past violence that could be repeated and reinforced by a stark binary ideology in which the left was demonic and the right was right. Indonesian citizens were required to be “clean” of communist influences, and Larasati herself underwent “screening” to become a civil servant in her position as a dance lecturer. Economic and political upheaval led to Suharto “stepping down” in May 1998, the start of a gradual but uneven process of liberalization and democratization, as well as a rethinking of Indonesian history. The Dance That Makes You Vanish revisits this period of Indonesian history. It is not aimed at anthropologists, but is of interest as an example of auto-ethnography that is poised between the habit of silence and the possibility of speaking out. [End Page 943]
The first chapter, “To Remember Differently,” introduces the two main themes: 1) the commodification of culture in global exchange, Third World development, and multiculturalism; and 2) women’s mobile and flexible citizenship in relation to global capital, as well as their potential role in Indonesian cultural reconstruction (7). The theoretical orientation is provided by post-colonial authors such as Said and Spivak, as well as Savigliano’s (1995) study of tango. Many women who were murdered or who disappeared between 1965 and 1966 were performers and artists belonging to the left wing Lekra and Gerwani organizations. Cultural policy favored “court” traditions, and many village-based or popular performance practices were classified as “folk” and marginalized. There are allusions to memories of encounters with some of these women and brief references to interview data from Larasati’s field research in East Java.
This theme is developed in the second chapter, “What is Left,” to critique the New Order’s use of repression and fabrication in cultural reconstruction, drawing on Wieringa’s (2002) seminal study of Gerwani (the communist women’s organization) and Anderson’s (1983) positioning of nationalism in relation to imperialism. We learn of Larasati’s participation in cultural missions, the repression of female performances in villages, and the use of dance in the on-screen demonization of Gerwani, all illuminated by Larasati’s interview data. Yet, the broader account of dance politics is sometimes oversimplified. For example, despite working in Jogjakarta, one of two central Javanese court cities, Larasati gives the impression that the heavily ritualized Bedhaya Ketawang court dance from the city of Solo (not identified as such) represents all bedhaya dances (45-46), rather than being part of a contested and transforming performance practice. This was part of court and New Order myth-making, but it conceals a complex story of cultural politics in its own right.
Chapter 3, “Historicizing Violence,” examines how performance culture was shaped by the state’s production of “certain kinds of simulacra in order to connect to the global sphere” (99). Criticizing the 1990s Smithsonian Museum’s Music of Indonesia project for ignoring the music’s “fraught political history,” Larasati tells the story of Jejer, an East Javanese dance...