Yesterday I attended an academic conference at Universitas Sanata Dharma, my sponsor here in Yogyakarta, the second meeting of an emerging research network called Reading Asia, Forginging Identities in Literature (RAFIL). A full review of the conference is not strictly necessary here - though I must say it was a pleasure to hear and talk with keynote speakers Melani Budianta from Universitas Indonesia and the Australian translator of Indonesian literature Harry Aveling (Latrobe) and other participants.
What I would like to briefly discuss is the 'cultural night' that capped the day. This was another affair with kaki lima food carts (actually mock-kaki lima - they all belonged to a caterer, with some proferring non-Javanese food like beef stroganoff) and local talent. Most of the evening was the campus keroncong ensemble - flute plus strings - accompanying amateur student singers and some more polished singers. There were also two dancers - a Balinese student who performed a solo legong and the SMA daughter of one of the conference participants, a lecturer in English, who performed a tari merak.
The keroncong ensemble was made up entirely of university staff - and while Sanata Dharma does not have a music department, they were fairly polished and professional both in appearance (black t-shirts with musical notes on them plus black jackets) and sound. A tight ensemble, polished and precise. I was told they often perform on local tv and venues like Taman Budaya Yogyakarta. Some of the singers (who performed both Javanese and Indonesian language keroncong) were VERY amateur (one had to restart a piece as the pitch was too high for her) but the musicians were not to be perturbed.
The Balinese dancer was also very competent. A Balinese lecturer told me that Sanata Dharma has just started up a Balinese dance club that meets every Friday and Saturday. The guru is from ISI Yogyakarta. Members of the club are both Balinese and non-Balinese. Men are learning baris and women are learning panyembrana. I was encouraged to join.
I am not sure what precisely the conference participants got from the shows. Some of the foreign conference presenters showed great interest in the Balinese dance/dancer particularly. She came out after her dance to allow people to take pictures together with her. An Iranian English lecturer and her husband, a nuclear physicist (!), seemed very enthusiastic indeed.
Preliminary impressions indicate that there is a lot of this sort of artistic activity going on in university campuses around Yogya. People I spoke to said it was a good social experience for students and also a way to promote the university. Something to think about.