(P61) Streaming the Tradition: Court and Grassroots Performing Arts in Yogyakarta during the Pandemic
Wed 09:00-10:30 K12 | 2.03
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Going ‘Viral’: Wayang Elektrik, Wayang Climen and Other Forms of Online Javanese Shadow Puppet Theatre in the Time of Pandemic
Elisha Orcarus Allasso Sanata Dharma
Ilaria Meloni La Sapienza University of Rome
In Central Javanese wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre), the use of social media for advertising (and, occasionally, streaming) traditional performances was not entirely unprecedented. However, the circumstances of 2020 have clearly contributed to the significant acceleration of this trend. Live streaming wayang was already common before the pandemic, though the format remained that of the traditional wayang (including the number of musicians and singers and the presence of the audience). Issues of social media visibility, worldwide networking and a large use of the internet technologies have become crucial elements within the traditional Javanese wayang kulit of the so called jaman now (“the time of now”). Many puppeteers, in fact, started to create new contents to promote their wayang performances on their personal YouTube channels and they ideated new marketing strategies to attract “followers”. Some of the most famous puppeteers of Central Java such as Ki Cahayo Kuntadi and Ki Seno Nugroho invented new formats of wayang elektrik and wayang climen to meet new audience demand in the time of social distancing and social media pivotal role.
These new forms contributed to confirm and speed-up transformation processes already embryonal to the wayang art and drastically changed the function and fruition of one of the most important Javanese performing arts. Amongst the main implications can be found: a significant shift from “participatory” to “presentational” function as intended by Turino (2008), new role of puppeteer, transformations in music and performance practice and innovation in management and sponsorship.
Uniting methodologies of practice-led research and digital ethnography with a double-sided, multi-situated approach (artist-researcher, Indonesia-Italy), this paper intends to outline how traditional art communities embedded in the framework of an oral culture are affected by the social and technological reverberations in the time of pandemic.
Palace Walls or Firewall: Digital Traditions of the Kraton of Yogyakarta
Sietske Rijpkema Royal Holloway, University of London
The court of Yogyakarta, which still holds political power, plays an important role in creating and sustaining relations with its subjects. In order to adapt to the digitalization and to increase the court’s visibility online, a new department (Tandha Tepas Yekti), was established in 2012. It was headed by an IT expert and the fifth daughter of the Sultan, princess Hayu (Gusti Kangjeng Ratu Hayu). Since then the department was working on providing the information on the royal court and its traditions through social media (Facebook, Instagram), an official website and a live-streaming channel on YouTube. Some endeavors have been complementary: the monthly Uyon-uyon performance has been broadcasted on the local radio for decades before an audiovisual streaming of the event came online; other kinds of content seemed to be fairly new.
At the onset of the pandemic, the Sultan of Yogyakarta who holds the office as governor of the region as well, announced the suspension of courtly events that were normally attended by the general public. As the department and team for digital media had already been established beforehand, it was not difficult for the court to rely more on digital content to reach out to the subjects. The YouTube channel has been used to stream ceremonies and events that were accessible to the public before but were now the subject of crowd restrictions.
This paper researches the implications of the pandemic on the Kraton live-streaming practices and looks into how its preexisting digital presence has increased and took a more prominent role when other artists and institutions were forced to go online as well. Uniting the practice-led participatory research with digital ethnography, this paper intends to map these implications and suggest how they can be correlated with the recent changes in other traditional performing arts presented in this panel.
Subversion vs. Compliance: Jathilan Trance Dance in the Pandemic
Eva Rapoport Sunway University
Jathilan or horse trance dance is a performing tradition with the long-standing popularity among Javanese villagers and lower class urbanites. Considered unrefined (kasar) and mostly practiced by the people who make their living on various menial jobs, jathilan can be interpreted as some subversive and carnivalesque practice – since beliefs in spirit possession (precisely, that non-human agents enter the dancers’ bodies) free the performers from personal responsibility and allow them to act in provocative, at times obscene or animal-like ways. In this light jathilan can be seen as a safety-valve within the context of Javanese society which prizes self-control and emotionally reserved behavior. Also, oral narratives about the origins of the dance, as communicated by its practitioners, often emphasize that while the dancers portray noble Javanese warriors, their entranced behavior is actually a way to mock the aristocracy.
However, at the onset of the COVID pandemic, jathilan’s protest and social critique potential were replaced with the demonstrations of compliance with the new safety norms and health protocols. The aim of this presentation is to overview the ways in which the tradition of jathilan has been adapting to the pandemic: by switching focus from live performances to online streaming, incorporation of the new imagery (including facemasks, face shields and hand sanitizer bottles) and even creation of promotional video clips where performers wearing protective gear dance to typical jathilan music but with disinfectant sprayers instead of the iconic horse effigies.
Present-day Java maintains a remarkable variety of traditional performing arts that are still alive and practiced today. Theatrical and musical, puppet and trance performances are held for various occasions, from national and religious holidays to family celebrations. Even during the pandemic, when large social gatherings were restricted, traditional performers did not abandon their vocation and employed internet and variousstreaming platforms (mainly Facebook, YouTube and Instagram) to share their art, creatively express their longing for the things going back to normal, but also address the issues directly connected to the pandemic.
While the use of social media for advertising (and, occasionally, streaming) traditional performances (on both court and village levels) was not entirely unprecedented, the circumstances of 2020 have clearly contributed to the significant acceleration of this trend. Following it, this panel aims to bring together scholars researching traditional arts in the Special Region of Yogyakarta who were forced by the pandemic to move their research into virtual space. In the era known as jaman now (‘the time of now’), many wayang kulit puppeteers have already started to adopt live streaming on their personal YouTube channels or in cooperation with other channels with the aim of reaching larger audiences. Especially during the pandemic, some of the most famous dalangs went a step further by inventing new formats such as wayang elektrik and wayang climen to meet the new demand for online performances and to gain ‘followers’. Increased use of social media has reached even the ‘highest sphere’ of Javanese culture – the court
arts. Court dance and gamelan sessions as well as ‘backstage’ documentaries have become fertile grounds for promoting the use of masks and sanitary protocols thanks to the Instagram visibility of the Yogyanese royal family. Even in case of jathilan trance dance, which in the past might have been a target of criticism for its chaotic and unruly nature, the emphasis on compliance with the new health rules has come to the fore, with face coverings, sanitizer bottles and disinfectant sprayers occasionally replacing traditional props and attributes.
Collectively, this panel’s presentations intend to outline how performing traditions with different historical, cultural and even class connotations enter the common leveled playing field of the Web and search for their place and strategy in this mostly uncharted territory