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A rare view

Review: Barbara Hatley’s new book documents a career-long study of, and passion for, performance in Central Java

Emma Baulch


Javanese Performances on an Indonesian Stage: Contesting Culture, Embracing Change, is Barbara Hatley’s first book about the performing arts in Indonesia, a topic that piqued her interest while undergoing a masters program at Yale University in the late 1960s. In this sense, it is a landmark study, for Hatley has since become very well known in Indonesianist circles, especially among those with an interest in matters of culture, popular and elite. Until recently, her writings on Indonesian performing arts have only been available in the form of journal articles and book chapters.

Javanese Performances must have felt like a massive undertaking for Hatley. It documents her entire career so far, beginning with the research for her doctorate she undertook in 1977-8 on ketoprak, a performance genre hailing from Yogyakarta’s lower class kampung communities, and ending with scenes in which both ketoprak and modern Indonesian theatre (teater) feature in healing efforts following the 2006 earthquake in Yogyakarta.

The book is set entirely in Yogyakarta, although Hatley occasionally draws in developments in the neighbouring court city, Solo. Her focus is on two forms of performance. Ketoprak features a repertoire of plays (lakon) based on Javanese tales of kingship and governance, heavily improvised, interspersed with comic interludes known as clown scenes, also improvised. Teater emerged in the early twentieth century, drawing

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