I have been spending the last couple of days hanging out with dalang - including Ledjar Subroto and his grandson Nanang (at their house and elsewhere), Dewanto and Agung (at ISI Yogya) and with members of PEPADI (the dalang association; at a rehearsal for a multi-dalang show to be held on 19 February at the Balai Kota). This has gotten me thinking about the anxieties of Yogyakarta style dalang and wayang more generally.
For a long time, Yogya and Solo style wayang were viewed as near-equal complements, each with their own strengths and qualities. Solo style took off really in the 1970s and came to dominate most of East and Central Java. Today Yogya dalang say they are only actively hired in 5 kabupaten of DIY, and even then they need to mix elements of Solo style to appeal. Only in the traditionalist dalang courses such as Habiranda can you find 'pure' Yogya style. Dalang worry about the disappearance of Yogya style.
I see Solo and Yogya style as very,very closely related - at least as close as the gaya lor and gaya kidul styles of Cirebon - and the divisions between them as being more ideological than aesthetic. But this is an outsider's eye. To the Yogya dalang the problem feels real and pressing. Unfortunately it is also a distraction - as it prevents (some) dalang from seeing that the more real issue is how to integrate and appropriate flows of global culture.
Some Yogya dalang (such as Catur, who performs much 'wayang kontemporer') are aware of this. Catur tells me he is off to Tegal on 28 February to konsultasi with Enthus, who has been asked to perform a 2 hour wayang in bahasa Indonesia in Semarang for the governor.
But ISI Yogyakarta is behind the time - almost all of the Yogya dalang I identify as significant (Ledjar, Sujiwo Tejo, Heri Dono, Sukasman) have never taught at ISI. And when I asked Dewanto and Agung what sort of kontemporer work the students look at for their komposisi class, the answer was none - they just invent their own stuff, for better or worse. It is no wonder the department is having so much trouble attracting students.