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  • Javaphilia: American Love Affairs with Javanese Music and Dance by Henry Spiller
  • Kathy Foley
Javaphilia: American Love Affairs with Javanese Music and Dance. Henry Spiller. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. 267pp. Cloth, $42.00.

Through case studies, this text traces the path of four artists—Eva Gauthier (1885–1958), Hubert Stowitts (1892–1953), Mantle Hood (1918–2005), and Lou Harrison (1917–2003). Each used aspects of Javanese music and dance to play to American audiences. They were “Javaphiles,” lovers of things Javanese. Spiller argues that the Western audience’s lack of knowledge about Java allowed these individuals to appear as experts for what was usually a very selective reading of the Indonesian arts, based on personal predilections and limited understanding of both the culture and music. The psychological, historical, and sociological circumstances enter into narratives of four interesting but sometimes little-known intercultural artists representing Javanese arts to American audiences.

The introduction deals with concepts of self-fashioning, orientalism, and “microhistories.” Spiller argues the artists “othered” themselves since they did not fit into the American mainstream (p. 24). To frame the individual studies, Spiller discusses two world’s fairs, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1986 World Exposition in Vancouver, Canada. The first included a contingent of 125 artists and craftsmen from Sunda (West Java) and Central Java. The latter had a large event in which many of the musicians involved in the international gamelan movement participated, including two of the people Spiller analyzes (Mantle Hood and Lou Harrison).

For the first fair Spiller notes the trope of colonialist romance that surrounded the 1893 Javanese village: one author averred “to sit on the veranda of the Javan coffee house . . . was the only truly poetic thing offered by the World’s Columbia Exposition” (Halsey Ives, quoted on p. 31). Spiller uses his [End Page 250] trained understanding of Sundanese arts to analyze the music and dance displayed in 1893, based on the photos, recordings, and other data. He shows the failure of the audience to follow the meanings of the performance. For example, in Javanese dance women routinely may play male refined heroes, but American viewers assumed that, given a female performer, they were watching the story of a women beating men in battle.

Each chosen figure is given a chapter. Eva Gauthier was a Canadian opera singer who Spiller shows had very limited knowledge of Malay song and depended on the Dutch East Indies musician Paul Seelig for her arrangements (often she failed to credit his work). Gauthier had married a Dutchman and followed him to the colony for a time. She ended up on the American vaudeville circuit with Regina Jones (aka Nila Dewi) using orientalist tropes to sell an act. The costuming was batik, but did not follow actual Indonesian models; the songs were relatively simple arrangements. She and her partner fit the fad for orientalist arts that allowed figures like Ruth St. Dennis, Rangini Devi, and so on to represent the “East” in ways that were stock in twentieth-century American vaudeville. Gauthier’s efforts to link Javanese music and modern/experimental art music were also rather standard for the period (and a trend that often continues to the present).

Next Spiller discusses Hubert Stowitts, a gay dancer-painter who started dancing with Pavlova, spent time painting and learning dance in the Central Javanese courts, and ended up in Southern California presenting dance in Hollywood choreographies, dancing nude on beaches, and exhibiting his drawings of musclemen. The Javanese male dancer was a favored subject of his art: his friendship with Leni Reisenthal eventually caused his fall from popularity as America moved toward war with Germany.

Probably of greater interest to academics is the story of Mantle Hood, who after studying with Jaap Kunst in the Netherlands founded the Institute for Ethnomusicology at UCLA in the 1960s. Spiller carefully shows Hood’s impacts on the development of ethnomusicology, from his early presentations at the American Anthropological Association and American Musicological Society, which were instrumental in spreading his concept of bimusicality. That idea of learning to do the art you researched became standard for scholars working in ethnomusicology, dance ethnology, and...


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pp. 250-252
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