How to Practise Trance Dance and Survive: The Growth and Place of Jathilan in Yogyakarta

The Politics of Art in Southeast Asia Seminar Series

A special slide show featuring photographs from Eva Rapoport’s exhibition, Facing Trance in Indonesia, will be shown between 2.30 pm and 3.00 pm.

About the Seminar

Jathilan is one of the names for traditional Javanese trance dance which is widely in use in the Special Region of Yogyakarta. Jathilan is a colourful show rooted in archaic animistic beliefs and performed for both ritual and entertainment purposes. Trance and its carnivalesque breach of the daily norms of conduct is the main attraction, though through the lens of local beliefs, it is interpreted in terms of spirit possession whereby ancestral and natural spirits enter the performers’ bodies to fulfill their needs while being manifest in the material world. This spirit possession is demonstrated through a variety of wild behaviours and, at times, feats of physical invulnerability: like eating glass or walking over hot coals.

Religious beliefs, as well as traditional performing arts, especially those connected to regional identities, have always been subject to political control and contestation in Indonesia. However jathilan endured through the country’s authoritarian times and have been experiencing a remarkable revival ever since the beginning of Reformasi. This dance succeeds in remaining an art of the people and for the people, while performing groups constitute self-sustainable family-like communities. Performers identify themselves as preservers of traditional culture which allows them to create their personal narratives that are independent of their income, formal education level and social standing.

This seminar discusses Indonesia’s New Order policies regarding crude folk (kasar, rakyat) art forms and manifestations of pre-Islamic religiosity, and compares those to the present-day situation where practitioners of the long-lived tradition find their way around the existing regulations and even utilize local departments’ of culture control and involvement for their advantage, without completely abandoning the mystical component of their practice.

The seminar is supported by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

About the Speaker

Eva Rapoport was born in Moscow, USSR, and graduated from the faculty of philosophy, Russian State University for the Humanities. She taught philosophy and cultural studies-related disciplines at the Higher School of Economics and the State Academic University for Humanities, Moscow, Russia. She is currently working on her doctoral research at Mahidol University on the role and place of jathilan trance performances in present-day Javanese culture, specifically focusing her attention on the Special Region of Yogyakarta. Alongside her academic research, Eva is working on photography projects depicting traditional performing arts and celebratory activities in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia. A selection of her works entitled Facing Trance in Indonesia was exhibited at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in February 2017.


Please click on this link to register by 29 August 2019.


Aug 30 2019


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2