- The Dance that Makes You Vanish: Cultural Reconstruction in Post-Genocide Indonesia by Rachmi Diyah Larasati
This work is one of the first books to directly confront, in the dance arts, the impact of the 1965 suppression of the PKI (Partai Kommunis Indonesia [Indonesian Communist Party]) by Suharto’s “New Order.” It is part of a growing body of Southeast Asian “scar” literature that deals with the injustices of the Southeast Asian Cold War experience. Chapter 1 outlines the theoretical premises of the work, which aims at deconstructing both the events of 1965 and the gender implications of New Order cultural diplomacy via dance. Chapter 2 opens with examining the sexual accusations leveled against the women communists of Gerwani (Gerakan Wantia Indonesia [Indonesian Women’s Movement]), a group under the PKI. Diyah Larasati then moves to the mythologized bedhaya female court dance as representative of the New Order conservative female image and then moves back in time to discuss the use of dance in cultural missions of Sukarno’s from the 1950s. The arguments in this section often are general and points could have valuably been backed up by specific examples. Chapter 3 discusses jejer, a form derived from gandrung (courtesan dance of East Java), arguing that the dance was banned due to class prejudice against its sexual and lower-class display, but has managed to reemerge. Chapter 4 draws parallels with the Khmer situation (where, of course, it was a performance of court-associated dancers—unlike Indonesia, where the lower classes were routinely persecuted as PKI fellow travelers). Chapter 5 documents the author’s own experiences of cultural diplomacy performances. [End Page 704]
The major strength of the work is in its first-person narrative; the author is from an artist family whose members disappeared in the bloody events of 1965–1967 that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 500,000 to 2 million people. She comes from East Java, where large numbers of people were killed or arrested, and where, for the duration of the New Order (1965–1998), various artists were under the government’s watchful eye and denied performance permits. Suspected individuals and their children were denied schooling, government jobs, passports, and so on. The narrative is strong where it addresses the issues that the author or her family experienced directly. The work tries to compare the situation in Java to the Khmer Rouge’s impact in Cambodia, but the fact that persecution there was of classical arts while proletarian arts (those targeted in Indonesia) were supported in Cambodia creates some confusion in how the two cases compare.
The narrative is both a reflection on the author’s eventual access—despite coming from a disadvantaged background in East Java from a suspect family—through her dancing to international travel and the constraints that were imposed on such tours by New Order policies. Subthemes of hegemony of Central Javanese court traditions (especially the female srimpi and bedhaya court dances) over popular village genres and the struggle of the performer as a female dancer toward self-liberation in a patriarchal society are broached. The mixture of places and issues was not for me always successfully melded.
As a reader I found the work most valuable for its testimony of a talented dancer from East Java who, although from a family that had been under duress after the 1965 events, managed to excel in dance, gain access to training in the government academies, be chosen for international tours, and win a civil service post as a government teacher/performer.
However, the work remains limited in its ability fully to analyze the varied issues the author foregrounds (for example, the Javanese-centric and court bias of the international tour repertoire or patriarchy and political conservatism as reinforced via repertoire). This is because the author stays with her own experience and interpretations. There are few quotes from other dancers that allow us to see their interpretations. Of course, testimony is complicated; there is continuing reticence of those formerly branded as...