Beyond New Order Gender Politics:
Case Studies of Female Performers of the Classical Balinese dance-drama Arja

Natalie Kellar
  1. A considerable body of scholarship documents the significant impact that New Order cultural policies has had upon the Indonesian performing arts sector. These studies testify to an ongoing process of control and 'development' of Indonesia's arts world during the New Order period.[1] The plurality of Indonesia's regional cultural traditions has been systematically muted as a result of the New Order State's sustained effort to impose an overarching official 'national culture' upon the Indonesian archipelago in an apparent attempt to secure national unity in an era of modernisation and development. An additional consequence of this phenomenon in Java was the generally reduced status of female performers.[2]
  2. Scholarship on this phenomenon in Bali, including my own research,[3] has revealed that Balinese cultural forms were not immune to the repressive cultural policies. In Bali's case, the prescriptive cultural policies governing its local performing arts sector under the auspices of the Suharto government's national development campaign engendered an ever-widening gulf between Bali's 'official,' academic site of performing arts development and that in its grassroots sphere.[4] The state-sanctioning of Bali’s official performing arts scene marginalised and obscured the time-honoured traditions of its grassroots performing arts domain.[5] In this new era of regional autonomy in Bali and in light of the prospects that the era holds for the preservation and reinvigoration of indigenous knowledge, it is a timely moment to examine the contemporary status of the marginalised owners of Bali’s grassroots performing arts sector, whose voices were repressed by the New Order State’s 'selective cultural memory.'[6]
  3. In this paper, I will present the case studies of six women performers of the classical Balinese dance-drama Arja. I argue that despite the repressive impact of the New Order’s prescriptive cultural policies on Bali’s performing arts world, the example of Arja reveals that, in practice, the social basis of the grassroots sphere of Balinese performance has largely remained intact. As a grassroots dance-drama form, Arja, a once popular genre, has been marginalised over the New Order period. However, while these case studies reveal that these women have lost their former predominance as the main players of this traditional Balinese dance-drama, their stories at the same time show that the grassroots sphere of performance in Bali has largely defied bureaucratisation. An examination of Arja dance-drama reveals that traditional practices predating the State’s propagation of New Order ideas of gender ideology continue to inform Arja dance-drama practice and its role allocation method in Bali’s grassroots performing arts world—practices from which the women in Arja theatre circles continue to benefit. In particular, this grassroots sector may be distinguished from that of its 'official,' state-sanctioned counterpart by its markedly egalitarian mode of troupe organisation and the persistent preservation of an alternative, inherently flexible mode of thinking about gender identity that is suggestive of pre-New Order views of gender in Bali.

    The female artists of Arja: towards a concept of 'agency'
  4. In review of the much used term 'agency' in feminist scholarship, Lyn Parker notes that, '"Agency" is often invoked by social scientists when they describe the unconventional, independent or emancipatory actions or practices of individuals who are oppressed or severely constrained.'[7] The case studies of female Arja performers presented in this paper provide important insights into the possible implications of the resurgence of Balinese cultural identity for gender issues in this post-New Order period, particularly in an era characterised by a 'reinvigoration of "traditional" identity discourse,'[8] with ambiguous implications for women.[9] Revealed is a site in which women are constrained by the influence of hegemonic New Order discourses on gender identity as well as by the gender hierarchy of traditional Balinese society. However, these case studies also reveal the locally-derived notions of gender found within Bali's grassroots performing arts scene, enabling an understanding of the exceptional identities and social relations peculiar to these women's narratives. Yet while Arja women are unique in their engagement in what has traditionally been a legitimate site for the subversion of gender norms and social expectations of female identity, I argue that it is their participation in the traditional modes of dance-drama practice and ongoing development of alternative forms, coupled with the unconventional lifestyles that their status as artists grants them, that constitutes the primary marker of their 'agency.' Patricia Jeffrey’s assertion that agency may 'foreground hierarchy and difference,'[10] may be applied here. For these women are able to assert their 'agency' within certain conditions, but it is the fact that New Order cultural policies have failed to permeate the social basis of this grassroots sphere of artistic endeavour, rather than the 'emancipatory' actions of the women artists themselves, that has given rise to their unique stories.

    Gender relations in Bali
  5. Feminist anthropological scholarship on Bali reveals an ambiguous picture of women’s status. Early work identifies entrenched concepts of male-female duality in Hindu-Balinese mythology—notions of gender complementarity ingrained in Balinese kinship relations.[11] A positive appreciation of female fertility recalls indigenous religious myths of woman as 'earth-goddess.'[12] However, women have seemingly always had an ambiguous position in Bali. This is suggested by studies pointing to the dual association of female fecundity and calamity, as well as the entrenched belief in and fears of the powers of female sorcery, long regarded to be detrimental to the Hindu-Balinese world order.[13] While women’s status is generally presented in a far more positive light by early anthropological scholarship than in later feminist work, even early writers note that Bali is a fundamentally male-dominated society with its patrilineal and patrilocal kinship structure and its tradition of polygyny. And while later writers do not discount such factors as the duality of male and female in Balinese cosmology and the power of women’s perceived ability for witchcraft, they reinforce an overall picture of women’s subordination.
  6. The women artists' stories also need to be seen against the backdrop of the dominant gender ideology propagated by the Suharto regime during the New Order period, which served to reinforce traditional notions of female identity and women's place. As well documented by feminist scholarship on this period, New Order State policies systematically reinforced women's subordinate status at the ideological level under the auspices of the government's 'national development' campaign. Traditional values were promoted to offset the impact of the forces of modernisation, and to this end women were promoted as mothers of the nation, responsible for ensuring that the familial realm remained harmonious and strong. Most importantly, for the purposes of this paper, this period was characterised by a strict gender code which aimed to reinvent traditional notions of male and female identity and roles. Scholars have argued as to Indonesia’s relatively egalitarian past with respect to the status of women compared to other predominantly Muslim nations, with the active role of women in Indonesia’s nationalist movement in the 1950s and 1960s often cited as a key example of this. However, the state’s propagation of restrictive female stereotypes, exemplified by the notion of kodrat wanita or women’s inherently refined nature, is broadly seen to have represented a strategically-orchestrated challenge to women’s status. As Daniel Lev has attested, 'Explicit challenges to the status of women, the effort to define them essentially as wives and mothers, is essentially a New Order phenomenon.'[14]
  7. Bali shows a similar picture of restrictive gender ideology from the 1950s onwards. Vickers, Darmaputra and Wijaya reveal trends in the late-Old Order Bali that provided fertile ground for the subsequent New Order regime’s rigid gender policies.[15] Their study of Balinese cultural debates in the 1950s onwards reveals a backlash against expanding female roles in the Sukarno era. A shift away from the progressive gender thinking of the 1930s and 1940s with its calls for women’s liberation, involved contrary moves towards the revision and ultimately curtailment of roles for 'modern' Balinese women. The debates about women’s roles in public forums such as magazines, focused in particular on the problematic issue of women entering the workplace.[16]
  8. A number of feminist scholars on Bali document that the transition to the New Order government saw a more extensive penetration of the state’s restrictive gender ideology into Balinese society. Lyn Parker’s work on the education sector revealed the gendering process at work in schools, where young girls were inculcated with state notions of femininity or kodrat wanita, and encouraged to prepare for their future primary social role as mothers.[17] Megan Jennaway’s study of polygyny in Bali points to the increasingly stigmatised status of divorced women and widows in New Order Balinese society, which afforded few options to women beyond matrimony and motherhood.[18] Similarly, Linda Connor has highlighted the cultural dominance of men in the public domain, describing the constraints imposed on Balinese women’s careers as healing practitioners or balians due to social expectations that they pursue their primary function as mothers.[19] These studies reveal that, like their Javanese counterparts, Balinese women have been exposed to the New Order state’s highly gender-specific behavioural codes and doctrines about their social roles. Through political directives as well as social institutions and media images, women have been systematically constructed, at the ideological level at least, as the dependents of men. This social doctrine has contributed to pre-existing gender inequalities stemming from Bali’s male-dominated, patrilineal social structure, coexisting with a grass-roots ethos of 'complementarity between the sexes.'

    New Order Cultural policy – the reinvention of ‘tradition’
  9. John Pemberton’s study suggests that an aim of social stability lay at the heart of New Order cultural policy.[20] As he states, one of the most distinctive features of New Order rule is 'the remarkable extent to which rhetoric of culture enframes political will, [and] delineates horizons of power.'[21] With its routine explicit reference to 'traditional values' [nilai-nilai tradisional], the New Order paradoxically achieved its pervasive effect by its appeal to shared notions of traditional values which implicitly displaced issues of class. Critical to Pemberton’s findings was what he termed 'the culture effect.' Pemberton speaks of 'the power of an indigenous discourse' operating to 'recuperate a past within a framework of recovered origins that would efface, for the sake of cultural continuity, a history of social activism from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s.'[22] New Order cultural policy was, moreover, 'devoted to recovering the horizons of its power by containing that which would appear otherwise.'[23]

    The world of performance: gender ambiguity in the Indonesian theatre context
  10. Given the historical significance of the theatre in Indonesia as a repository of the gender values of a particular period, it becomes clear as to why New Order cultural policies so targeted this sector. In the context of a sanitised, reified version of 'culture' in New Order Indonesia, the traditional world of performance, specifically the particular ideas of gender identity underpinning this sphere, could indeed be seen to refract norms. Play on gender in performance is a long-standing characteristic of Indonesian theatre forms. Peacock’s study of the East Javanese 1960s theatre form Ludruk, composed chiefly of male transvestite singers and male clowns, provides a good example of this. Peacock relates how Ludruk previously presented a liberal attitude toward transvestite or homosexual expression, and noted the allure of cross-gender performances of this theatre form for 1960s audiences.[24] However, Ludruk theatre, he argues, represented an entertainment form of the masses in an era of aspirations toward building a modern and progressive Indonesian state. As the contemporary propaganda revealed, implicit in this modernising ideology was an aim to reinforce the gender code and, in particular, a restricted idea of female identity. This had a restrictive effect on Ludruk’s previously liberal attitude toward transvestite or homosexual expression. Male performers were urged by troupe leaders to be maju [progressive] by cleaning up the homosexual reference of Ludruk and behaving strictly as men were supposed to do beyond the theatre, a practice alien to many actors who were traditionally effeminate offstage as well as onstage. It was in this climate of a tightening of gender politics that Ludruk theatre represented sheer titillation. Nevertheless, its overt flaunting of society’s rigid gender stereotypes served to heighten the characters’ appeal. As Peacock argues:

      Emphasis of the fact that the singer's facade covers a male body (the hybrid 'culture over nature' aspect) almost seems to enhance the spectators' attraction to the character.[25]

  11. Claire Hanson's 1995 study of modern Indonesian society's attitudes to gender ambiguities enables the reader to situate contemporary Ludruk’s special sensationalism within its specific gender-political context.[26] Hanson outlines how alternative gender identities were an accepted phenomenon prior to the New Order period in Indonesia. She relates that the strict regulation of matters of sex and gender grew more regimented in the New Order period in the name of a return to supposedly 'traditional' values. Potentially deviant sexual activities and gender categories were vehemently suppressed in the name of a re-invented tradition. Although they were accepted as legitimate within a traditional societal context, transvestites in modern urban Indonesia have become increasingly marginalised over the course of the New Order period, and have been associated with social deviance.
  12. Given the overarching, repressive policies characterising the New Order period, and in particular, its exclusionary politics of representation with regards to women, what can be found in Bali's cultural heritage that could be regarded as potentially threatening to the establishment of a socially stable Indonesian state? The case of Arja—a genre arguably representative of Balinese dance-drama tradition—offers a revealing insight in this regard. While not denying the pervasiveness of New Order ideology in Bali, in seeking to explore the possibilities of female agency in Arja circles, it is important to recognise Arja female performers’ inherently ambivalent subject-positions, born of their prior and continuing exposure to locally-derived notions of gender. In particular, gender notions in Bali’s grassroots performing arts scene, like those revealed by Peacock’s findings on the original form of Java’s Ludruk genre, could be seen to indeed counter New Order gender ideology, hence mediating the extent to which this ideology has influenced these female artists’ worldview. In other words, the subject-positions of Arja’s female artists as Balinese women, is necessarily contradictory,[27] determined not only by the new discourses to which they are exposed, but also by their investment in their own authentic politics and culture.[28]
  13. As McPhee reminds us:

      In this theatre of the imagination, free of scenery or properties, the actual sex of the performer was forgotten…The young girl, it had been discovered, could give the final touch of delicate grace to the portrayal of a prince of the halus, the 'gentle-serene' type, while a man no longer young, but widely known for his finished and classical style, could give a far more feminine performance than any girl.[29]

    In view of the paucity of studies on gender in performance in the Balinese theatre realm, it is significant that in the work on Balinese performance prior to the New Order period, observations made on gender issues focus on the Balinese theatre convention of gender-switching on stage. Early writers make mention of this phenomenon with evident fascination at such divergence from gender norms. As can be found in his memoirs on Bali, Colin McPhee makes explicit reference to Arja, one of the most popular theatre genres in the 1930s and 1940s, expressing fascination for its intriguing practice of 'gender-bending.' Later studies during the New Order by John Emigh and Jamer Hunt, point to the casting-inversions deployed in Balinese secular theatre (theatre having the primary role of community entertainment and stimuli for the local economy), asserting that these dance forms 'mischievously juggle perceptions of appropriate behaviour and, perhaps in the process serve to encourage a re-evaluation of traditional conceptions of gender.'[30]
  14. My doctoral study revealed that Arja, a secular form of theatre, is reflective of a Balinese theatre tradition of gender fluidity in dance. This was revealed in my study of dance training both in the official site of the Performing Arts Academy, STSI, the realm of seniman akademik [educated artists], as well as in Balinese villages, the realm of seniman alam [grass-roots artists].[31] This examination of the traditional dance training process identified affirmation of the 'natural' blending of masculine and feminine traits in each individual. In niches of dance training, the conventional gender ideology of the New Order state that assigns men and women gender-specific traits, that is, kasar [coarse, crass, oafish, crude (of behaviour/character)] and halus [refined (of behaviour/character)] respectively, was found to be blurred. At STSI, as in traditionally-oriented dance training in Balinese villages, there is an acceptance of in-between dance styles, namely tari laki bebancihan and tari wanita bebancihan—dance styles which are based on the presumed ability of the dancer to assume the other gender’s traits in dance.[32]
  15. Notably, as noted by 1930s residents of Bali such as Margaret Mead and Colin McPhee, the dancer Mario, was renowned for this ability to employ gender ambiguity in dance. Born I Ketut Marya in 1897, Mario is credited with the creation of a new dance style called kebiar duduk, upon which all future bebancihan dance styles (bebancihan being a term of rather recent origin) have been based. A former dancer of Gandrung, a dance style in which men take on feminine traits, attracting, it is alleged, both female and male members of their audiences, Mario is said to have improvised with a babantiran gamelan accompaniment which had impressed him upon arriving in North Bali in 1919. Mario became a 'legenda dalam process kreatif berkesenian' [legend in the process of creative artistic practice],[33] spontaneously creating a feminine, halus dance style which emphasised the upper torso of the body, using a fan to effect flowing, sweeping movements that left viewers mesmerised.
  16. Suzanne Brenner’s study on Java called for a new approach to gender analysis wherein one delves beyond the dominant, hegemonic ideology on gender to evince 'the ambiguities, paradoxes and multiple layers of meaning that attach to ideas about maleness and femaleness.'[34] Like Brenner’s study, a review of indigenous Balinese conceptions of gender identity reveals the existence of ‘an alternative, sometimes submerged view of male and female nature’ that exists counter to New Order discourses on gender.[35]
  17. In ‘Engendering Disquiet: On Kinship and Gender in Bali,’ Mark Hobart critiques what he views as the biological determinism of much academic writing about kinship and gender in Bali as a prescriptive and unsatisfactory framework for analysing notions of 'male' and 'female' and gender issues in Bali. Indeed pointing to the inadequacy of these terms, Hobart argues that in Bali:

      There is, in short, no essential way of reading gender. Ascriptions of difference are recursive, situational and underdetermined by facts…. The nature of relations between males, females, bancih, divinity and other beings is argued about and its significance rethought in public meetings, theatre, the market, coffee stalls…. To subsume this diversity under some universal construct of gender or kinship, before inquiring whether Balinese actually talk in these terms, or need to presuppose them in order to talk, is hegemonic…. All too often it is a strange, truncated Bali that Western investigators serve up, severed from Balinese commentary on their own motives and practices.[36]

  18. Critiquing an essentialist approach, Hobart distinguishes alternative ideas of gender identity intrinsic to Balinese ways of seeing the world. Of particular note is the Balinese belief in a range of partly changeable and interrelated conditions of being. Hobart outlines Balinese use of a cluster of six related terms for 'condition of being' or karana, with the third condition, rupa, or form, being of pertinence to the gender-fluid notions of identity and behaviour ingrained in Balinese conceptions of the self. For Balinese, form is not fixed, with males, females and a third gender bancih [third sex/gender space] recognised in Balinese society, thus suggesting indigenous ideas of gender underpinning Bali’s grassroots dance methodology related above. Hobart gives the example of women in Bali who work regularly in rice fields being said to have their rupa become more like men, with their behaviour too changing accordingly.[37] Hobart also alludes to the permeable gender boundaries existing in the practice of certain Balinese domestic and kin relations. He notes residential arrangements in which female heirs are 'treated as jural males and said "to be a man" (literally: to have the body of a male, maraga lanang in High Balinese), and their husbands are correspondingly designated female.'[38] Hobart distinguishes the theatre sector as a site in which troupes and audiences engage in 'dialogic' commentary on the 'topic' of gender.

    The world of performance: indigenous attitudes to gender and sexuality in colonial Bali
  19. Hobart's findings are supported by studies of pre-colonial Bali which suggest that classical Arja dance-drama's broadminded attitudes to gender are part of more fluid and liberal attitudes to gender and sexuality in indigenous Balinese culture and played out in the performing arts. John Emigh and Jamer Hunt suggest a direct association between the Gandrung dance form and homosexual encounters in indigenous Balinese communities. Gandrung, an art form performed by young prepubescent boys, was noted above as the dance form for which Mario had been known prior to his development of Kebiar. It represented a gender inversion of the popular art form, Joged, in which female performers dance in an enticing and overtly sensual manner to attract their male audience who later dance with them, and often pursue relations offstage. When young boys became the dancers in the new form Gandrung, the male audience was no less sexually entranced.[39]
  20. The extent to which one can attribute Emigh and Hunt’s claim to indigenous Balinese culture remains in question. However, it is consistent with the findings concerning same-sex relations in Indonesia that confirm that homosexuality and transvestism were and remain institutions intrinsic to indigenous culture.[40] While no suggestion is being made here of a relationship between homosexuality and Arja, this picture of flexible codes of gender and sexuality in the Balinese artistic sphere provides the context in which Arja emerged. It also provides insight into the relatively liberal-minded discourse on gender identity with which artists of the Arja genre engage.

    The Balinese performing arts in the New Order—a departure from grassroots Balinese dance-drama tradition
  21. The Balinese dance-drama Arja in its classical form has suffered a marked decline in popularity since the emergence of Drama Gong and Sendratari in the 1960s. As a grass-roots theatre tradition, Arja has been marginalised by these modern forms, which have received more support and sponsorship from the political elite in Bali. As DeBoer argues, in the New Order period

      many of the traditionally important 'classic' theatrical forms…even the once wildly popular arja…have fallen into comparative neglect while…two new genres created during the 1960's which are closely associated with Indonesia's New Order…received strong encouragement and support from the central Indonesian government in Jakarta.[41]

    In effect, Arja, renowned for the predominance of its female players, has been eclipsed by the New Order phenomenon of a male cultural elite controlling the arts in combination with an increasing appropriation of the arts world by the patriarchal Suharto state.[42] This ongoing social and political transformation of the performing arts has characterised artistic developments in Bali throughout the New Order period.
  22. My earlier research likewise revealed that the New Order state's monitoring of the arts significantly impacted upon traditional grass-roots dance methodology and choreography, as well as Arja and its predecessor Gambuh.[43] An indigenous acceptance of gender flexibility in dance was deposed at the official level in favour of a gender-specific mode of role allocation. Traditional Arja dance-drama, a drama form unique in the prominence of its female actors playing refined and coarse, male and female roles is appealing in its rich range of gender identities and its play on the current gender codes.
  23. Significantly, for the present discussion, this study noted a tension between traditional gender-fluid artistic practices in dance circles, and modern Balinese society’s bipolar notion of gender identity. An example was cited of the problematic nature of STSI’s cross-gender training initiatives in its training of young male dance students in the female dance form Legong. Male Legong students experienced embarrassment at the time of their exam performance, and were laughed at rather than admired by their peers.[44] This apparent shift in gender thinking in performing arts circles from the period of Mario’s fame and the heyday of Arja and Gambuh, to that subscribed to in the New Order period, was further illuminated by dance student Sriyanyi, 'Men can't perform Legong in society. In society, men perform only male dance.'[45]
  24. As in the case of Ludruk, Japanese Kabuki and Chinese Opera, the contemporary Balinese theatre forms having emerged within the New Order era, most notably Drama Gong and Sendratari, have in a sense betrayed traditional Balinese theatre practice in relation to gender, adhering in performance to the dominant gender stereotypes of their political era. These modern drama forms see men relinquishing their traditional freedom to assume the roles of 'refined' [halus] or female characters such as princesses. Likewise women have lost their once socially acceptable stage role as the 'coarse' [kasar] and male king. The absence of gender performance in the Balinese theatre of the New Order suggests the theatre sector's gravitation towards state-promoted ideas about gender and signals its departure from the fluid gender attitudes embraced by original forms like Arja.
  25. Studies of the 'official' Balinese performing arts sector in the New Order period,[46] suggest that the development of Drama Gong and Sendratari has been tainted, if not wholly determined, by the political interests of the New Order state. Picard draws a critical distinction between artistic practice in the time of court patronage of the arts and the contemporary institutional monitoring of the performing arts realm by institutions such as SMKI, the 'Conservatory of Music' and STSI, the 'Academy of Indonesian Dance,' set up by the New Order government in the 1960s. Picard argues that while the courts took care to maintain their own distinctive styles true to an indigenous Balinese theatre tradition, the arts created by these modern institutions are politically engineered, premised on an aim to 'induce in each of its provinces a distinctive homogeneous identity, grounded on a single set of unique cultural features, at the expense of the diverse ethnic cultures enclosed within their boundaries.'[47] Moreover, Picard claims that the cultural authority of these institutions was compromised by their allegiance to Jakarta, and asks how 'estranged' they might be from their Balinese roots. Hough likewise documents the state's appropriation of ethnic cultural forms and its redefinition of them within a national framework. Hough argues that this 'process of appropriation and re-contextualisation of cultural forms within the rituals of state' constitutes 'one means of maintaining and reinforcing ideological control.'[48] Likewise DeBoer alleges Sendratari to be a 'conscious invention' of the State used along with Drama Gong as an instrument for the inculcation of 'official' values to youth: 'the two forms can be paired. Both came to popularity in the 1960s, both were encouraged by the "New Order" regime. Both strive for continuity with Indonesian cultural traditions, both reaffirm "official" values.'[49].
  26. A further development negatively impacting upon classical Arja’s female troupes has been the formation of Arja Muani or Men’s Arja in 1993. This new dance troupe consists of a group of male dance graduates of Bali’s most important Arts College, STSI. My study of Arja Muani documented that the troupe mimicked the conventions of the classical female-dominated Arja dance-drama, and was unique only in its all-male composition.[50] The troupe has acquired almost legendary status in Bali for, like the 1920s all-male Arja troupes, they played male and female roles, thus reintroducing Arja’s liberal play on gender into modern Balinese performance. Despite being labelled by arts scholars and artists of classical Arja troupes as an amateurish Arja troupe of inferior artistic quality,[51] this troupe has evolved from a fledgling troupe to a new Balinese dance-drama phenomenon. Arja Muani’s soaring popularity peaked at the Balinese Arts Festival of 1997. In 2000, Arja Muani was still highly sought after by Balinese throughout the island to perform at local ceremonial occasions. The troupe’s hectic schedule entailed them travelling on a nightly basis to different regencies in Bali for these performances. Contemporary folklore has it that 'Arja Muani muncul lagi,' that is 'an all-male troupe of Arja has emerged again.'[52]
  27. Even a cursory glance reveals Arja Muani’s obvious play upon taboo gender categories in the tradition of Java’s contemporary Ludruk theatre. In a political climate in which a restrictive official code of sexuality and gender lingers as a product of the New Order period, the Arja Muani phenomenon spells sensationalism. By far the greatest advantage of Arja Muani over other, less popular Arja troupes in Bali of the classic mould has been the thrill of seeing men cross-dress, with Balinese crowds often lining up backstage as the actors dress to witness these men transform into female characters. Actors play on this in performance, with transvestite jokes and emphasis on female form by the male princess and maidservant.

    Arja’s historic and social context – the makings of a ‘liberal’ theatre tradition
  28. The word 'Arja' is derived from 'reja' or 'areja' in Old Javanese, and has the meaning 'beautiful.' Today Arja refers to the portrayal of romantic love stories through singing.[53] Arja dramatises classical tales and legends chiefly derived from the Panji romance or Malat Javanese stories, with actors projecting the play into the contemporary world through the use of jokes and humour, equating the drama with present day life through improvisation. There is no script, and an actor's success depends upon his or her use of their own creativity and a set of conventions as general guidelines for improvising on parts and their memories. The refined characters sing their entire dialogue; coarse characters sing and speak; and servants speak all of their lines. The blend of spoken language with gamelan music and dance contributes to Arja's unique quality. As McPhee puts it, 'the formalized dialogue and movements of the players combine with the music to create a remote and romantic atmosphere of legend and unreality.'[54]
  29. Arja serves several social functions in Bali. Despite being a classical dance-drama, Arja is mainly regarded as a secular theatre form in its role as community entertainment and as a stimulus for the local economy. Arja also has some religious significance however, for as well as gracing modern community festivals, Arja is often associated with religious events such as temple ceremonies, weddings and cremations. Nevertheless, although some elders do argue as to its sakral [sacred] function, Arja bears no specific ritual significance. It is a performance genre that simply contributes to the entertainments that accompany the abundant ceremonial activities of Hindu-Balinese life. Most importantly, regardless of the occasion, Arja has maintained its social significance in instilling cultural values through the presentation of a diverse range of character models.
  30. As a popular, classical dramatic form that emerged long before the New Order period, Arja can arguably be regarded as representative of Balinese dance-drama tradition. Arja is thought to have emerged in the early nineteenth century when it was created as a new form at the cremation ceremony of I Dewa Agung Gede Kusamba in 1825. At that time, Arja was an all-male company of dancers and its success led to performing groups being established in most of the court centres. In the late 1920s female performers began to be included in Arja. There was apparently great enthusiasm for female singers and dancers as they were and still are considered by the Balinese ear to have voices better suited to singing the tembang or songs. Women's grace and beauty were added bonuses. The 1940s saw the real beginning of the dominance of female actors in Arja with male actors progressively losing their dominance in acting roles. Nowadays, women act six of the ten basic dramatic roles—both main characters and servants. Men meanwhile retain the role of clown or the king's assistant.
  31. According to Balinese scholar, I Wayan Dibia, progressive ideas about women's place in society that were circulating in palace circles set the precedent for the shift from an all-male to a female-dominant genre. Specifically it was in the puri or palace of Ubud that palace wives were first allowed to participate in Arja performances—a trend beginning in the 1920s that gradually saw these women acquire gengsi or prestige from the display of their artistic abilities. That it was elite women of Bali, who first took part in Arja is consistent with the fact that the promotion of female equality was instigated by educated sectors of Balinese society in the period.[55] This shift to female performers later followed by village communities’ Arja troupes in response to the puri model, suggests that the attitudes to gender within Arja circles were sufficiently flexible for men to accept women taking prestige parts. Arguably, the shift is also reflective of Balinese artists’ enthusiasm for experimentation, particularly in the context of gender play in performance.
  32. The lack of gender discrimination in Arja has provided its female performers opportunity and agency, and also helps to explain the presence of so many strong and prominent female figures in the performing arts community. While a tradition of paternalism characterised Arja troupe organisation until the 1970s my examination of the prevailing mode of troupe organisation in Arja in the late New Order period revealed the token status of Arja’s male figureheads at the formal level.[56] At the informal level of performance meanwhile, the lack of gender discrimination in Arja circles has enabled the rise of many strong and prominent female figures. This is obvious in key sites of Arja’s development including the Arja troupe based at Denpasar’s local radio station, Arja RRI, and in the Arja community of Keramas. Having penetrated key sites of Arja leadership, these female protégés of the distinguished male Arja artists of the forties and fifties now boast a status recognised in their Arja community as on a par with, if not sometimes superior to, their male counterparts, acting alongside men as trainers and coordinators. Arja is popularly known throughout Bali today as a women’s dance-drama, denoting the strength of women’s status in the genre and its substantial shift from its original male-dominated form.[57]

    Role allocation in Arja – female artists and the tradition of cross-gender play
  33. Women artists' performance of men's roles in Arja adds a unique dimension to Arja theatre vis-à-vis its modern counterparts. For example, in Arja it is a female actor who plays the Mantri Manis, the 'sweet' Prince or King as well as the Mantri Buduh, the coarse, bad king. This presents images of gender identity arguably challenging Bali's well documented rigid gender code. In this context, Arja could be viewed as constituting an anomaly to the Balinese world beyond the theatre, considering the apparent potential of the genre to offer not only 'traditional,' but also alternative images of female identity.
  34. My doctoral research underlined that in Arja theatre one finds an attitude upheld wherein the consideration of one's gender and its socially-ordained traits becomes subordinate to kecocokan or characterisation. Female Arja artists have the opportunity to momentarily abandon the behavioural expectations society places upon their gender, allowing them to assume their character and its associated qualities, male or female, refined or coarse, on the Arja stage in the context of theatrical play. Arja comprises a broad range of characters which not only reflects the range of gender identities the theatre form entails but also in the female artists that play these roles, one finds a broad range of distinct personalities. An actor must be cocok with their character for usually an actor trains in only one particular character—a role they’ll play throughout their acting life. The standard convention in Arja circles is to typecast artists on the basis of an initial assessment of their personality type. It is necessary to review the rich array of characters found in Arja prior to turning to the individual identities and personal histories of the female artists who play them.

    Principal characters in Arja dance-drama
  35. The Galuh: among the principal characters is the Galuh, a beautiful young woman, and a princess, and hence a halus or refined character around whom the romantic intrigue revolves.

    To play the Galuh, a female performer must be particularly beautiful, langsing [slender] and quite tall. The Galuh conforms to the helpless and dependent female stereotype—she is vulnerable to her male pursuers and usually reliant on her maidservant to defend her. Deemed a 'tokoh romance,' or model of romance, she is known for her absolute goodness and as such she is used as a role model for young girls.

    The Condong is the Galuh's maidservant—a middle-aged commoner who is a mature, wise and loyal servant and the mistress's confidante. According to arts scholars in Bali, the Condong figure most clearly represents the traditional female character of Bali as nurturer, and upholder of morality. The Condong is regarded as half halus and half coarse or kasar—she displays quite a propensity for slapstick and often quite rough behaviour in her defence of the Galuh against the predations of unwelcome men.
    Figure 1. The Galuh, Arja Keramas, Keramas, Gianyar, 26 August 1997. Photographer Natalie Kellar.

  36. The Mantri Manis is the refined prince in Arja and the Galuh’s love interest. The use of women in this role is often explained by the fact that a gentle and refined prince most closely corresponds with the feminine. To be suited to this role, a woman must have an appearance 'like that of a man' with a round, broad face and significant height, but with an usually slight build.
  37. The Mantri Buduh constitutes the arrogant male counterpart to the Mantri Manis—a selfish prince or king who is less intelligent than the good prince and usually loathed by the audience due to the obstacles he creates to upset the life of the Galuh and her prince. Female performers here assume the dominance of an aggressive male type, often approaching the Galuh and Condong roughly and expectantly. A female performer, who usually has a male appearance, short hair and larger build, thus portrays the dominant male, treating women as items to possess—the male sexual licence enshrined in Balinese culture. Significantly, the portrayal of the coarse king by a female performer is a casting inversion not found in other modern Balinese theatre. It remains a role allocation typical to Arja theatre, and effectively grants female actors the capacity to assume and embody the characteristic that mainstream ideology associates with men and masculinity.
  38. Both the good and bad prince each have their own pair of male servants or confidantes—the only roles in Arja still played by men. In the Mantri Manis's case, these are referred to as the Penasar Manis [an older, but rather simple-minded clown and a younger, but significantly wiser clown and advisor of the Mantri Manis]. The Mantri Buduh has his own pair of clowns or buffoons—the Penasar Buduh, similarly distinguished by their age and wit. They differ from the noble prince’s servants in their propensity for vulgarity and physical slapstick.
  39. Another principal character is the Limbur, a strong-willed, mature older woman who is usually responsible for the Galuh’s suffering, although she may play a wise Queen mother or the mean step-mother. Sometimes halus and sometimes kasar, the Limbur wavers between the qualities associated with femininity and masculinity. A female artist of a solid build usually plays this role and she is required to have a very deep and specific voice. The Limbur owns a loud and raucous manner as well as voice—a factor which may explain why this role was not relinquished by its male actors to female performers for a significant period of time after women’s entry into Arja.
  40. Further principal characters include the Liku–Limbur’s daughter who is a vain and eccentric, ugly young woman and a princess characterised by her selfishness and jealousy of the Galuh. The Liku has a female servant, the Desak Rai–a young woman who is witty and eccentric, a comic character who often betrays her mistress's confidence. The Desak's feisty manner and her propensity to play off her constant male admirers make her a very interesting female role model. She is seen as being very sexy and beautiful and unlike the Galuh, she is well able to defend herself. She has a strong personality, often promoting female rights and interests and criticising unjust sexual double standards.
  41. Thus, through the rich variety of character-types Arja explores gender identity in a unique, broad-minded way. As former chairman of STSI, I Made Bandem stated in relation to the philosophy behind Arja’s crossed-sex performances, 'Coarseness and refinement is always within every person. Everyone has these two characters—now it depends on which one is the main, is the dominant. Yes?'[58] The dominant social idea of kodrat that associates the qualities of halus and kasar with femininity and masculinity and by extension, with females and males respectively, is blurred in Arja dance drama’s mode of casting. The cross-gender play phenomenon in Arja identifies flexibility and ambiguity in thinking about gender in dramatic circles, coexisting with more fixed gender stereotypes in society beyond. While Arja’s practice of gender-switching in no way represents an overt transvestite form of theatre, a term notably never acknowledged by its practicing grass-roots artists, it does represent a longstanding and revered practice which points to more flexible codes of gender identity in Arja’s formative period.

    Case studies of female Arja performers
  42. The material presented here was collected over a ten-month fieldwork period in 1997. This research was undertaken in two Balinese villages renowned for Arja dance-drama in Bali, Singapadu and Keramas, in the regency of Gianyar, as well as at the local radio studio RRI [Radio Republik Indonesia] in Denpasar. The case studies below are based upon an examination of two classical Arja troupes in Bali which were still fairly prominent at the time of this research. Arja RRI is a troupe whose base is the Radio Studio of Denpasar and includes Arja Bon artists, that is, artists who have attained expertise in the genre. Arja Keramas is a group of Arja artists in Keramas who, while now fractured and operating on an individual enterprise basis, all align themselves with the village of Keramas and with its reputation as a leading site of Arja dance-drama production.
  43. The following six female artists of Arja have been selected to represent the range of female Arja performers’ attitudes and experience. They are presented by order of age and degree of education because these factors constitute important influences in the women’s experiences and their values. For the purposes of this paper, I will focus chiefly on these women’s contemporary career activities and achievements as well as their marital and family lives at the time that this research was undertaken in the late New Order period.
  44. The women’s narratives shed light on the implications for these artists of the play with conventional ideas of male and female identity that are fundamental to Arja’s mode of casting. By examining how their roles were allocated to them and how these performers conceive of their onstage personas we get insights into the way each woman conceives of her own identity and social role as a woman in ‘New Order’ Balinese society. Clearly the women are conscious of the opportunities that their participation in Arja grants them, with some women clearly taking advantage of their privileged status in Balinese society as high profile female artists to fulfil self-serving ends.
  45. In presenting these case studies I am acutely aware of my own place in constructing narratives about the lives of 'other' women.[59] In line with feminist scholars' acknowledgement that women are 'not politically equal, and, given that politics is connected to truth, all are not epistemically equal,'[60] it needs to be reinforced here that these case studies constitute an act of representation and that I, in speaking about these Balinese women, here act as 'interpreter,' inevitably participating in the construction of their subject-positions.[61]

    Case Study 1. Ni Ketut Ribuwati (1932- ), Mantri Buduh, RRI
  46. In 1997, Ni Ketut Ribuwati had performed in Arja for over forty years. She belongs to the first generation of Arja performers based at Denpasar Radio station’s RRI, participating in Arja’s twice weekly broadcasts and in performances outside RRI. Ribuwati supplements her RRI income by working at a second job selling gold and cloth to a fairly exclusive tourist clientele.
  47. Ribuwati is regarded as the exemplary player of the kasar or coarse king of Arja, the Mantri Buduh, upon which other Arja dancers try to model themselves. She epitomises the experience of Arja's original and highly revered seniman alam or grassroots artists, having had no formal training in the genre, and maintains that she became proficient in developing the song voice she needed for her role as the Mantri Buduh out in the rice-fields where she worked picking padi as a young village woman. Ribuwati owes her career to the male patrons of Arja. When the Mantri Buduh in her village troupe resigned, the male elders of the village chose her, now renowned in her community for her song voice, to take the role. Although very unwilling at first, Ribuwati eventually took on the role where she says keajaiban or magic occurred, for she found she could dance and sing the Mantri Buduh role, and remarkably well. As she relates, ‘Truly I indeed cannot explain why I can play the Mantri Buduh figure so true to life…I (too) did not know how to explain it.’[62] As with many Arja performers, Ribu is identified with her character offstage—a position of esteem which she is quick to brush aside, declaring that while people identify her with the Arja role she plays, 'I don't dare to say that I am the one who moulded the Mantri Buduh figure.'[63]
  48. Ribu is an unmarried woman by choice. She relates 'It’s strange but I was never attracted to men. I consider women and men the same' and she further insists, 'I have never regretted my choice to stay single.'[64] Although she has no children of her own, Ribuwati does take care of her nephews and nieces whom she helps to clothe and put through school with the income from her work in Arja.

    Case Study 2. Ni Nyoman Candri (1947- ), Condong, Arja RRI
  49. Highly accomplished performer and prominent figure in the Arja community, Ni Nyoman Candri is an exemplary female artist whose name is well known throughout Bali. A strong personality, Candri is a prime example of Bali’s respected grass-roots artists with her lack of formal academic education, and devoting her life exclusively to the arts. Born in the village of Singapadu, her father I Made Kredek, a renowned figure in the Arja community, was the first to include women in Arja troupes in Singapadu, following the model set by royal circles.[65] Candri herself joined her father’s village troupe of Arja at only ten years of age. She is also the sister of Professor I Made Bandem, former director of Bali’s Performing Arts Academy, STSI.

    Figure 2. Ni Nyoman Candri as Condong, Arja RRI performance, Batubulan, May 1997. Photographer Natalie Kellar.
    Figure 3. Ni Nyoman Candri and Ni Nyoman Rantan as Condong and Galuh, Arja RRI performance, Batubulan, May 1997. Photographer Natalie Kellar.

  50. Candri’s career boasts an extensive list of accomplishments. She is renowned for her singing ability and her role in Arja theatre, nowadays playing the Condong or maidservant of Arja RRI, but formerly the Mantri Manis or good prince. She currently works in the official sites of Denpasar Radio Station, RRI and at STSI dance academy as an Arja performer and dance teacher respectively. She is also extensively engaged in efforts towards Arja theatre's preservation for which she travels throughout Bali to train new groups, transferring her artistic inheritance to the younger generation so that they continue this classic art form of their ancestors. Candri has also travelled extensively overseas as part of Balinese performing arts missions, including going Japan in 1982, New York in 1983 for the Summerfare Festival, Australia in 1984 and 1986, Italy in 1990 and 1992 and Brazil in 1994.
  51. As a direct result of her reputation in Arja, Candri has also gained acclaim in male-dominated art forms. She is one of the few accomplished female performers in Bali of the mask dance, Topeng and has also become one of Bali’s few accomplished female dalang. Notably, Candri's position of esteem in the performing arts sector of Bali has enabled her to be active in her own village's social and political life. Candri acts as the representative head of her family in her banjar's regular council meetings in Singapadu, customarily a role exclusive to male heads of families.[66]
  52. As the wife of a retired policeman and mother of three daughters, all of whom are active in Bali's arts scene themselves, Candri has allowed neither marriage nor motherhood to hamper her career. Candri insists that for her, Arja is a way of life. She has persistently accommodated her family life to the demands of her Arja activities. As she declares on marriage, 'I continued to perform! Before I was married I continued to perform too. Only on my marriage day did I not dance…there were no understudies.'[67] Similarly, Candri relates that her role as mother did not constitute a significant impediment to her career. On the contrary, she insists on how she resumed performing again shortly after the arrival of each of her daughters—'when the children were two months old I would begin dancing again.'[68] Daughter Koming reflects upon her childhood and her mother's artistic pursuits by claiming that, 'Mum was always busy performing.'
  53. While Candri does acknowledge the necessity of her husband's support of her career pursuits in Arja, declaring 'without the support of my husband, I could not dance,'[69] Candri's career has engendered role reversals in the family home. During the periods when she was absent performing at night or on extensive trips overseas, it was her husband and her mother who assumed her motherhood duties in the domestic sphere. As Candri acknowledges 'my husband helped to prepare the children so that their mother could dance at night. He didn't go to the office at such times, he also minded the children together with their grandmother.'[70]

    Case Study 3. Ni Wayan Latri (1959- ), Mantri Manis/Mantri Buduh, Arja Keramas
  54. Widely regarded as the most prominent female artist in the Keramas Arja community, Ni Wayan Latri is renowned for her performance of both the good and bad prince of Arja—the Mantri Manis and the Mantri Buduh. The latter is a role which Wayan Latri insists is at odds with her refined female nature, but despite this fact, she is as commanding a figure as the Mantri Buduh as in her preferred onstage role of Mantri Manis. Wayan Latri's status in Keramas is also due to her activities offstage as the village's leading female trainer, coordinator and promoter of Arja dance-drama.

    Although from a performing arts family, Ni Wayan Latri states that her interest in the genre arose not from family influence but at her own initiative. While it was said that her mother was once an Arja dancer herself, she never sought to pass on this artistic inheritance to her daughter.[71] Rather, Ni Wayan Latri, marked out for her talent for singing in primary school, acquired her instruction in Arja chiefly from the leading Keramas figure of that time, I Wayan Mianta, as a keen student in his Keramas children's group based at Banjar Biyu. At thirteen years of age, with a foundation in classical Balinese singing and primary Balinese dance forms such as Legong, Ni Wayan Latri became a part of Mianta’s children's group, training in her now acclaimed role as the good prince, the Mantri Manis. Ni Wayan Latri also trained under Ni Nyoman Candri at Singapadu to develop her song voice for Arja.

    After the Arja troupe of Keramas dispersed in the late 1970's with a trend towards individual expertise and professionalism, Ni Wayan Latri accepted invitations to perform in the Arja bon productions performed throughout Bali. These required a dancer to have the bon title of distinction.
    Figure 4. Ni Wayan Latri and daughter. At home in Keramas, Gianyar, 26 August 1997. Photographer Natalie Kellar.

    In such performances Ni Wayan Latri fostered her modern day reputation as the renowned Mantri Manis figure of Keramas and later as the much less refined Mantri Buduh. She regularly acted as an understudy for the Mantri Manis or Mantri Buduh role for the Arja troupe at RRI. Around this time, Ni Wayan Latri also began to act in her current capacity as a prominent coordinator of Arja dance-drama in the Keramas community, organising and leading performances in Keramas and throughout Bali, thus assuming the role once exclusively belonging to Pak Mianta as Arja Keramas's original male leader. She also assumed her aging teacher's former role as a trainer of Arja, establishing her own teenage troupe known colloquially in Keramas as Wayan Latri's anak buah-buahan [child protégés].
  55. Apart from travelling extensively throughout Bali and Java for her Arja commitments, in 1980 Wayan Latri also travelled to France as part of a Balinese dance and culture mission overseas. This, however, was not in the capacity of an Arja dancer, but for a production of other Balinese dance forms including Legong.[72] Like her Singapadu counterpart, Ni Nyoman Candri, Wayan Latri is an active leader in efforts to preserve her village’s status as an Arja stronghold. Like Candri, Wayan has directed her attention towards the younger generation of dancers in Keramas, securing their interest in the traditional dance-drama of their ancestors through her formation of Keramas's teenage troupe. Renowned for her singing voice, Wayan Latri is also involved in a singing group in Batuan who gather regularly to recite and sing traditional Balinese verse and songs.
  56. Wayan Latri’s greatest mark of distinction however, amongst her Arja colleagues, is her status as a student female dalang for Wayang Arja. There is only one other acclaimed female dalang in Bali, again her Arja female counterpart, Ni Nyoman Candri. Wayan Latri trains in this traditionally male-dominated art form under the direction of her elder, the revered artist of Bona, I Made Sija, who himself is keen to point out his pupil's superior vocal abilities. As the Wayang genre demands, Wayan Latri has mastered the voices of all Arja characters from the princess to the penasar.
  57. Wayan Latri is married to a traffic policeman, I Made Sarjana and has two children, Made aged sixteen and Kadek aged two at the time of this study. With Wayan a prominent Arja identity in their village community, her family, like that of Ni Nyoman Candri, is accustomed to working around Wayan's performing arts activities. It was largely due to Wayan's Arja commitments in Keramas that she and her husband settled in her family's ancestral household rather than taking up residence in her husband's family compound in Karangasem as Balinese marriage custom decrees. As husband, I Made Sarjana, recalls, 'I had to separate from my family (because) she didn't want to move.'[73]
  58. As a mother, Wayan Latri combines her family and artistic demands as best she can, typically feeding her infant daughter and carrying out her obligatory role as the woman of the household placing offerings at the family temple before she leaves for a performance. Her husband is well-rehearsed in the conventional tasks of motherhood, playing the babysitting role when his wife is away on performance nights or during her longer absences from home such as during her trip to Europe. This proud and supportive husband often seems in the shadow of his wife and is quick to affirm, 'I am the one who minds the children.'[74] Wayan herself acknowledges her husband's support of her performing arts pursuits—a field once frowned upon for women. As she noted, 'There is stimulus, motivation.'[75]

    Case Study 4. Ni Wayan Roti (1958-), Liku, Arja Keramas
  59. For Ni Wayan Roti, Arja has represented less an endeavour stemming from a love of the arts, than a way out of desperate poverty. Roti came from a family of peasant farmers. Her family's poverty saw her often wandering the streets as a girl, searching for means of livelihood. For Roti, her role as the highly popular, eccentric Liku figure of Arja Keramas, which has earned her the tag as the 'Liku of Keramas,' chiefly constitutes a means of financial autonomy and familial subsistence. Not only has Roti performed with Arja troupes of Keramas for over twenty years with her Arja bon distinction, she has travelled widely in Bali in this capacity. Roti has also made Arja into an individual marketing enterprise, running a small business from her home coordinating and producing Arja and other Balinese dance-dramas upon clients' request.
  60. Roti is married with three children. With her husband out of work, she constitutes the sole income earner of her family. However, like other female artist colleagues in Keramas, Roti conveys a sense of guilt over the placement of her career interests over her role in the home. She cites her neglect of her children when she is away performing, insisting on her deficiencies in this regard as a mother. Like other women, she relates that it is her mother-in-law or husband who acts as the substitute mother during her absences, conceding that her work as a female performer 'annoys the family.'[76] Her guilt about her failure to fulfil her motherly duties resounds in her insistence 'I have many shortcomings.'[77] Roti rationalises her performance work as a necessary evil—if she didn't dance she declares 'how would we eat?!'[78] As a long-time battler, Roti impresses upon her daughter the necessity of a woman's financial independence, saying, ‘If you choose to dance in Arja you'll have money to continue your schooling.'[79]

    Case Study 5. Ni Wayan Rasmini (1967- ), Condong, Arja Keramas
  61. Thirty-seven-year-old Ni Wayan Rasmini plays the role of the maidservant or Condong in the Arja Keramas dance troupe. A strong and independent-minded personality, Wayan is devoted to the performing arts and particularly to Arja. She is the daughter of leading elder and former trainer of Arja Keramas, Pemangku I Made Togog. With her grass-roots training and her formal dance education at Bali’s performing arts school formerly known as Kokar, Rasmini is both a grass-roots [seniman alam] and an educated artist [seniman akademik] whose views on women's roles in the performing arts combine both streams of thought. Rasmini is very comfortable with her on-stage role as the Condong, the Arja model of the traditional female figure of Bali. Rasmini, ever conscious of her place as a Balinese woman, maintains that the role is harmonious with her own nature.
  62. Rasmini is another Arja artist also distinguished among her peers for her capacity as a dalang. She is dismissive of the male-dominated nature of the shadow-play genre and vehemently rejects the notion of Wayang kulit as an art-form exclusive to men, citing the egalitarian approach of her dance training at Kokar—'Men and women can do it. Women can! If men can, women can too, men and women are equal in Wayang. It is the same with their dancing. If a girl learns to dance oleg, the boys must too. That is compulsory at school.'[80]
  63. Rasmini is married with two children, a girl and boy both of primary school age. Although Rasmini is a committed wife and mother, her devotion to the arts has often overridden that to her husband and family. The performing arts is a way of life for Rasmini, who says, 'when I’m sick my only medicine is to dance.'[81] Rasmini has often resisted the impediments the mother role has at times presented to her performance activities. When first married, Rasmini moved from her husband's family compound in Denpasar to Karangasem, where her husband worked for four years as a bank clerk. Rasmini frankly describes her isolation during this time from her Arja circles as intolerable, and relates how she finally rebelled against the situation, returning home alone so that she could resume her dancing. 'I hadn't danced for four years. The artist in me protested—I didn't want to stay long there. I wished to go home [and] I returned home…my husband protested.'[82]
  64. However, for the sake of her young child Rasmini relinquished her opportunity to be part of a dance mission to Japan stating: 'My child was still little. I gave up (the opportunity). I gave the opportunity to someone else.'[83] Rasmini also feels guilty when she leaves her children at home to be minded by their father, grandmother or uncle. She relates that even if she performs at a site hours from home, she will travel home that night to be home for her children's preparation for school the next morning. Notably, Rasmini's words highlight the dynamics of her family home, suggesting her subordinate position to her husband and his authority over her exemplified by her statement, 'I must be home by six as my husband goes to work. [But,] I must be able to dance. How would it be if I wasn't allowed [diizinkan] to dance?'[84]

    Case Study 6. Ni Ketut Murdani (1979- ), Desak Rai, Arja Keramas
  65. Eighteen at the time of this study (1997), Ketut is renowned in her own village of Keramas for her enthusiastic portrayal of the Desak Rai, the very feisty servant girl of Arja. With strong female role model Wayan Latri, as her Arja trainer, Ketut's attitude to her career in Arja is typical of the strong personalities found amongst the new generation of Arja dancers in Wayan Latri's teenage troupe. Ketut's expression of her love of Arja bears strong female-centred overtones, describing it as a site of female agency and empowerment on stage from the repressive model of female behaviour to which she adheres as a young Balinese woman in her everyday life. Ketut relates that in Wayan Latri's Arja troupe, she and her fellow dancers are free [bebas] to craft their character's personality. As Ketut stresses, 'We are not bound.'[85] She declares that while normally she is rendah hati, that is, prone to the highly common female traits of modesty and low self-esteem, onstage 'my feelings of shyness are lost.'[86]
  66. In terms of Ketut's views on marriage and family, she is an exception to the rule amongst her non-dancing peers. Ketut relates that while most of her friends, village girls of seventeen, eighteen and nineteen years of age, are now happily married, she herself favours her own career advancement before marriage and family. Ketut has refused a potential pacar [boyfriend] for this reason, preferring to delay marriage until she furthers her study and career as an Arja dancer. Illustrating the implications of marriage and family as foreseen by her and her fellow dancers, Ketut states, 'I want to continue Arja first. If I marry I'd be forced to stop.'[87] Significantly, this view of marriage as a barrier to female advancement is one entertained by Ketut's onstage alias, the Desak Rai. The Desak, owning the greatest licence of all Arja's female characters to promote female interests, advances such notions of female desire and independence primarily through her rejection of men. Like the Desak, Ketut has refused potential suitors, favouring her own autonomy.

    Locating ‘agency’ in Arja
  67. In line with its aim to focus on 'contrasting representations of gender and shifting embodiments of power and status,'[88] this paper has sought to reveal sites of female power in Arja theatre circles submerged beneath the official discourse of male authority in Balinese society and culture. The reality of female experience in Arja's grassroots troupe organisation and leadership patterns provides evidence of the way Arja's theatre practice in this grassroots domain confounds the prevailing notions of gender identity and gender roles in mainstream Balinese society in the New Order period.
  68. These case studies reveal the ability of Arja women to capitalise on the prestige they derived as Arja performers, not only in the performing arts but also in the social world beyond. While most older women's experience is one of initial paternalistic guidance by their male trainers and leaders, in the course of their careers and the progressive developments in the genre itself, these women have come to lead outstanding lives. Arja women are typically strong female identities who have significantly countered Arja's patriarchal past by their assumption of roles well beyond that of their former position as dancers. They hold leading positions as trainers, coordinators and producers of Arja and have typically travelled widely overseas for various Balinese dance missions.
  69. In terms of Arja troupe organisation today, men's leadership positions and the marginalisation of female performers from leadership positions do endure. In formal settings in both Arja RRI and Keramas Arja performances, one finds the guise of male control, with a male figurehead of the Arja troupe inevitably acknowledged. Arja performances, as presented in a formal context, indeed highlight the extent to which Arja’s troupe organisation still mirrors the gender hierarchy of Balinese society.
  70. However, this 'official' account fails to acknowledge the impact of the 1970s shift towards professionalism upon Arja's grass-roots organisation. Artists in these Arja circles themselves attest to the egalitarian ethic that this shift has lent to their mode of organisation. This egalitarian environment is underlined by the replacement of a fixed troupe leader with the modern-day Arja 'coordinator'—a role that all Arja bon (expert) artists, irrespective of gender, are free to adopt. This shift is in apparent contrast to recent studies on women's roles in the contemporary Javanese theatre scene. Amrih Widodo's study, for example, revealed the increasingly marginalised status of the female Tayuban dancer and the reinforcement of masculine authority in this Javanese dance genre[89]—a shift, he argues, engendered by the modern state's institutionalisation of the performing arts.[90]
  71. This fracturing of the original, fixed and male-led troupes into what remain the two most active sites of Arja's development today, Arja RRI and Arja in Keramas, has created a situation where Arja artists act largely as independent agents. In this environment, performers are considered to be 'seniman bebas' or independent artists, denoting their status as free agents. Ni Wayan Latri has been able to emerge as Keramas's most prominent acting coordinator alongside her counterpart I Wayan Suarta, frequently leading Arja troupes of Keramas for performances outside the village and training their own Arja children's groups, in an effort to maintain the younger generation's interest in the drama form of their ancestors. Similarly, Ni Nyoman Candri enjoys a high profile as a leading dance trainer in Bali, dedicated to the preservation and development of the Arja genre. These two leading female artists have undertaken key post-New Order initiatives in their creation of two new all-female versions of the formerly male-dominated genre, Arja Topeng. Arja Topeng is a hybrid of Arja and the masked dance Topeng, with the latter being traditionally a male-dominated artistic form.
  72. Women’s achievements and strong positions in Arja have transcended their stage activities and had influence upon both their public and private lives in other notable ways. Their status as Arja dancers has seen many women gain access to other related, but strongly male-dominant fields such as radio and Wayang Kulit theatre. As prominent Arja performers, Ni Nyoman Candri and Ni Wayan Latri are recognised as the two leading female dalang [puppeteers of Wayang Kulit theatre] in Bali. Ni Nyoman Candri has moreover, accrued significant social standing in her private life as a direct implication of her high profile as an artist. Candri is the sole female member of Singapadu's banjar council—a site in Bali that remains almost exclusively a male domain.
  73. These case studies also reveal the traditional status of the Balinese stage as a site of debate on gender relations in Bali. Arja clearly represents a legitimate medium through which women express alternative gender attitudes. Female actors cast in the roles of Arja’s less conservative female characters are relatively free to engage in discourse posing opposition to and expressing their resentment of the female lot—a practice taboo in social life wherein women are encouraged to remain the quieter, passive members of the community. That they commonly make use of this capacity was noted by the example of Ni Ketut Murdani who, when on stage as the Arja's Desak Rai, assumes a strong, assertive female persona so unlike her shy offstage self. As the Desak, Ketut also gives vent to the idea that young women should covet their autonomy and not be hasty in seeking unnecessary dependence upon men. That Ketut consciously rejoices in this opportunity to express a developing female-centred consciousness is evidenced by her comment that within Arja 'we are not bound.'[91]
  74. It is important to note the degree to which women have been able to use their success in Arja as a means to combat economic disadvantage. Strong female identities in Arja theatre achieve leading positions as teachers, coordinators, producers and dancers of the Arja genre, commanding influence in the domestic realm and often also important positions within their village communities. Ni Wayan Roti has used her status as a prominent Arja performer as an offshoot for a business career through which she single-handedly supports her husband and family. As a long-time battler, Roti notably impresses upon her daughter the necessity of a woman's financial independence, promoting Arja as a means to this end.
  75. Finally, within the familial domain, the extent to which women have actively deviated from Bali's customary gender roles to meet the needs of their own careers and/or personal fulfillment as Arja performers is striking. Conventional understandings of marriage deriving from the tradition of contractual lineage priorities of male parties are subverted in many of these cases. Examples of these women’s unconventional marriage arrangements are those made by Ni Nyoman Candri, Ni Wayan Latri and Ni Wayan Roti, who have refused to move to their respective husbands' house compounds upon marriage because their career interests lie in their own village community. Similarly Ni Wayan Rasmini actively protested the expectation that she would move with her husband when his work took them away from her dancing pursuits, eventually fleeing her artistically-barren environment to fulfill 'the artist in me.'[92]
  76. These women's inversion of the usual dynamics of the typical Balinese household is also seen in their husbands' assumption of the motherhood role when their wives are away performing. The husbands of these career-oriented women testify that they are willing to accommodate their wives' careers however disruptive these appear to normal patterns of family life in Bali, and express their pride in their wives' success. Of course, some women are not guilt-free and express their feelings of failure in their role as wife and mother as an impact of their career. Others refuse to take advantage of the wide-ranging roles open to them, unwilling to put career before their 'proper' family role.
  77. However, while participation in Arja has had a liberating impact upon the first generation of female performers, it has ultimately not effected a change in the mainstream gender thinking to which younger Arja artists are arguably more exposed. The fears expressed by the younger generation of female Arja performers born in the New Order period about the impact of marriage and family on their dance careers, suggest that ideas about women's place not only continue in Balinese society, but have arguably become more influential. Ni Ketut Murdani's stance denotes that younger women seem very conscious of the demands that the role of wife and mother would place on them, with most believing it would curtail their careers. The experiences of Ni Nyoman Candri and her daughter, Ni Wayan Eka Sumantriani, are a further example of this shift of gender expectations. While Candri was able to capitalise on Arja circles' liberal gender thinking, readily assigning her housewife and motherhood duties to her husband and mother when her career demanded it, her daughter, Wayan related that she was forced to give up her career as an Arja dancer after marriage. Factors such as guilt about a baby-sitter and economic impediments left Wayan incapable of following in her mother's footsteps as a promising young Arja dancer, and bound her to work as a teacher to make a living.[93] The limited career expectations of these educated seniman akademik [educated artists] compared to the extended dancing lives of their unschooled village mothers, arguably points to more than a reinforcement of women's traditional roles. In contrast to their mothers' independence, the younger generation of Arja dancers seem to be experiencing a shift towards a curtailing of female opportunity in the dance world and beyond, in spite of their common acquisition of a formal education.

    Concluding remarks: a circumscribed 'agency'
  78. Byron Good asserts that:

      For the anthropologist,…inattention to the lived experience of a subject is ultimately untenable…. It contradicts the centrality of persons and of intersubjective experience in the field of research of the anthropologist.[94]

  79. This paper has sought to underline the extent to which the female performers of the classical Balinese genre of Arja have stood to benefit from the existence and apparent validity of more flexible attitudes to gender manifested in Bali’s traditional theatre realm—a Balinese past prior to the New Order era of strict sex stereotyping. As these case studies show, these women actors have been able to assert their agency in various unique ways. Importantly, however, their agency has chiefly been confined to this marginalised, heretofore socially-obscured site of Bali's contemporary performing arts world. Attention to the 'lived experience' of the women highlights that the degree of autonomy that they exhibit has been contingent upon the persistence of alternative gender notions and more flexible gender relations traditionally having characterised the world of performance in Bali within this marginalised grassroots realm. That these notions have endured in grassroots theatre circles to this day denotes the fact that this sphere of artistic endeavour has been, to a significant extent, impervious to prescriptive New Order cultural policies regarding the politics of gender.
  80. Significantly, these case studies point to the way in which Bali's performing arts sector has reflected new developments in gender concepts and practices occurring in Balinese society over the New Order period. The various ways Arja's first generation of female performers in particular have been the beneficiaries of the relatively egalitarian environment intrinsic to traditional Arja circles, serves to highlight the contrasting restrictive impact of New Order gender policies upon Bali's modern-day performing arts sphere and its female participants.
  81. Given the prospects this new era of regional autonomy holds for the preservation and reinvigoration of indigenous knowledge, it will be important to monitor the post-New Order fate of women's agency in Bali's performing arts realm. Specifically, it will be crucial to determine whether, within a post-New Order framework of national cultural policy and tourist performance in Bali, women in this grassroots performance sector will gain economic or political power. For while these studies show women's potential to wield agency in the pursuit of their own interests and that of their grassroots genre, they remain, as outlined above, subordinate to the legacy of the New Order discriminatory cultural policies, in particular, the significant gulf now existing between grassroots artists and the newly-ordained 'official' custodians of Bali's performing arts domain. Whether they themselves, as well as Arja as a marginalised dance-drama genre, will be empowered by Bali's new political and economic autonomy remains open to question.
  82. In terms of the prospects for female opportunity in Bali's performing arts in this era of reform, the new phenomenon of women's Arja Topeng [a masked dance/Arja hybrid] is significant. This new genre has been developed in both Singapadu and Keramas by Arja artists, Ni Nyoman Candri and Ni Wayan Latri respectively, and could be viewed as a reaffirmation of indigenous Balinese theatre's relatively egalitarian tradition. However, to what extent does the emergence of this new all-female version of this male-dominated genre represent a shift towards a heightened consciousness of gender issues at the State level and in Indonesian society as a whole? Will these local initiatives by women receive the official support of Bali's local arts elites in light of their new political and economic autonomy so that Bali's performing arts sector reflects a new liberalism in the arts reminiscent of the egalitarian trend in Arja? More broadly, will the Balinese performing arts sector reflect the democratic aspirations of Indonesians in the post-Suharto era or are we to witness a 'reinvigoration of "traditional" identity discourse'[95] with regard to women’s status and gender roles in the performing arts realm of post-New Order Bali? These remain important questions for feminist scholarship on Bali in this reformasi period, given the considerable scholarly evidence of the theatre sector's significance as a key site of the reproduction and confirmation of Balinese society's cultural values and ideals.


    [1] See Hooker, Virginia Matheson and Howard Dick, 'Introduction' in Culture and Society in New Order Indonesia ed. Virginia Matheson Hooker, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1993, pp.1–19; John Pemberton,.On the subject of "Java", New York: Cornell University Press,1994.

    [2] See Felicia Hughes-Freeland, 'Golek Menak and Tayuban: patronage and professionalism in two spheres of central Javanese culture,' in Performance in Java and Bali: Studies of Narrative, Theatre, Music and Dance, ed. Bernard Arps, London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1993, pp. 88-120; Amrih Widodo, 'The stages of the state: arts of the people and rites of hegemonization,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysia Affairs, vol. 29, nos 1 and 2 Winter/Summer 1995, Sydney: Department of Indonesian and Malayan Studies, The University of Sydney, pp. 1-35; Barbara Hatley, 'Women in contemporary Indonesia theatre - issues of representation and participation,' in Bijdragen, Tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, vol. 151, no. iv, Leiden, s'Gravenhage: M. Nijhoff, 1995, pp. 1-21.

    [3] Natalie Kellar, 'The politics of performance: gender identity in Arja and other contemporary Balinese theatre forms,' Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 2000; Kellar, 'Arja Muani as the modern-day agent of Arja's liberal gender agenda,' in Inequality and Social Change in Indonesia: The Muted Worlds of Bali, ed. Thomas Reuter, London: Curzon Press, 2002, pp. 86–117.

    [4] The term 'grassroots' is used throughout this paper specifically to distinguish Bali's traditional, indigenous sphere of artistic endeavour in its rural communities as opposed to Bali's official, academic sites of performing arts development of relatively recent origin, that is, key academic institutions, STSI and SMKI.

    [5] See Brett Hough, Contemporary Balinese Dance Spectacles as National Ritual, Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, 1992; Michel Picard and Diana Darling, Bali: Cultural Tourism and Touristic Culture, Singapore: Archipelago, 1996; Fredrik DeBoer, 'Two modern Balinese theatre genres: Sendratari & Drama gong,' in Being Modern in Bali: Image and Change, ed. Adrian Vickers, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 1996, pp. 158-78.

    [6] Hooker and Dick, 'Culture and Society in New Order Indonesia', pp. 1–19.

    [7] Lynette Parker, 'Women's agency and resistance: birth in Bali,' unpublished paper, 2002.

    [8] Pam Nilan, 'The social meanings of media for Indonesian youth', in Globalization, Culture and Inequality in Asia, ed. T. Scrase, T.J.M. Holden and S. Baum, Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press. 2003, pp. 168-90.

    [9] Feminist scholars of this reformasi period in Indonesia have pointed to a definite change underway in regards to the status of women, with a presidential decree in 2000 having mandated gender mainstreaming in national development planning. See Krishna Sen and Maila Stivens, Gender and Power in Affluent Asia, London: Routledge, 1998; Nilan, 'The Social Meanings of Media for Indonesian Youth' pp 168-90. There is also some work however, indicating that the implications of regional autonomy for women can be regressive, particularly in strongly Islamic areas. See Edriana Noerdin, 'Customary institutions, Syariah Law and the marginalization of Indonesian women,' in Women in Indonesia: Gender, Equity and Development, ed. Kathryn Robinson and Sharon Bessell, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2002, pp. 179-86. See also Helen Creese, on conservative media representations of women in Bali, 'Reading the Bali Post: Women and Representation in Post-Suharto Bali,' in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, issue 10, August 2004.

    [10] Patricia Jeffrey, 'Agency, activism and agendas,' in Appropriate Gender: Women's Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia, ed. Patricia Jeffrey and Amrita Basu, London: Routledge, 1998, pp. 221–43

    [11] Hildred Geertz and Clifford Geertz, Kinship in Bali, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

    [12] Barbara Watson Andaya, 'The changing role of women in pre-modern Southeast Asia,' in SouthEast Asian Research, vol. 2, no. 2, September 1994, pp. 99-116, p. 109.

    [13] See Abby Ruddick, 'Parallel worlds: healers and witches in a Balinese village,' in Contributions to Southeast Asian Ethnography, 1989, pp. 25-42; Lynette Parker, 'Flowers and witches in Bali: representations and everyday life of Balinese women,' unpublished paper, 1993; Linda Connor, Patsy Asch and Timothy Asch, Jero Tapakan, Balinese Healer: An Ethnographic Film Monograph, Los Angeles, Ca.: Ethnographics Press, 1996.

    [14] Daniel Lev, 'On the other hand?' in Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia, ed. Laurie Sears, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996, pp 191–203.

    [15] Adrian Vickers, Nyoman Darma Putra and Nyoman Wijaya, 'Balinese cultural debates 1950-1997: modernity and television,' unpublished paper, 1998.

    [16] The Balinese magazine Damai's stance on career-orientated women was expressed in the following way: 'Mother: "Child, woman and man are always different. Their progress is always different too. And why, my child? If a man is too progressive it won't ruin him, but suppose a woman is too advanced…. Her stomach becomes large…and the village head will have difficulty with the birth registration. This is the difference.' Cited in Vickers, Darma Putra, and Wijaya, 1998 from (SOS) Damai, vol. II, no. 2, 17 January 1955, p. 10. This excerpt also promotes the idea of men and women's gender-specificity—the notion fundamental to the future New Order regime's gender policies.

    [17] Lynette Parker, 'Gender and school in Bali,' Fourth Women in Asia Conference, Melbourne: Monash University, 1993.

    [18] Megan Jennaway, 'Bitter honey: female polygynous destinies in north Bali,' Third WIVS Workshop Indonesian Women in the Household and Beyond: Reconstructing the Boundaries, The Netherlands: Leiden University, 1995.

    [19] Connor, Asch and Asch, Jero Tapakan, Balinese Healer, pp. 33-34.

    [20] Pemberton, 'On the subject of "Java", p. 9.

    [21] Pemberton, 'On the subject of "Java", p. 9.

    [22] Pemberton, 'On the subject of "Java", p. 9.

    [23] Pemberton, 'On the subject of "Java", p. 9.

    [24] James L. Peacock, Rites of Modernization; Symbolic and Social Aspects of Indonesian Proletarian Drama, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.

    [25] Peacock, Rites of Modernization.

    [26] Claire Hanson, 'Representation of, and attitudes towards, gender ambiguity in Indonesia's indigenous and contemporary urban societies,' Honours thesis, Melbourne: Monash University, 1995.

    [27] Bronwyn Davies, 'The concept of agency: a feminist poststructuralist analysis,' in Social Analysis, vol. 30, 1991, pp. 42-53.

    [28] Sherry Ortner, 'Resistance and the problem of ethnographic refusal,' in Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 37, no. 1, 1995, pp. 173-93, p. 176.

    [29] Colin McPhee, A House in Bali, Kuala Lumpur and New York: Oxford University Press, 1979, pp. 66-67.

    [30] John Emigh and Jamer Hunt, 'Gender bending in Balinese performance,' in Gender in Performance: The Presentation of Difference in the Performing Arts ed. Laurence Senelick, Hanover N.H.: University Press of New England, 1992, pp. 196-218.

    [31] Kellar, 'The Politics of Performance.'

    [32] Both STSI and village dance trainers uphold the traditional Balinese practice of cross-gender dance training. In both sites of dance tuition in Bali, once they are sufficiently adept in the dance style of their own biological gender, male and female students are free to seek further advancement in forms of their own gender, cross-gender dance styles or dance of the opposite sex. Those who are successful commonly go on to perform in this style for unofficial ceremonial occasions and also often teach this skill to young protégés. Koming, daughter of renowned classical Arja performer, Ni Nyoman Candri, is a prime example: she openly prefers tari laki or male dance, and is a renowned teacher and dancer of men's dance styles such as Baris in her village of Singapadu.

    [33] 'A legend in the performing art's creative process.' See 'Mario Sang Maestro, Geruh Pendekar Gambuh' in arti Majalah Seni Budaya, Augustus, 1999, pp. 16-17, p. 16.

    [34] Suzanne Brenner, 'Why women rule the roost: rethinking Javanese ideologies of gender and self-control,' in Bewitching Women, Pious Men, ed. Aihwa Ong and Michael G. Peletz, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, pp.20-42.

    [35] Brenner, 'Why women rule the roost,' p. 22.

    [36] Mark Hobart, 'Engendering disquiet: on kinship and gender in Bali,' in 'Male' and 'Female' in Developing Southeast Asia, ed. Wazar Jahan Karim, Oxford: Berg, 1995, pp. 121-44.

    [37] Hobart, 'Engendering Disquiet,' pp. 121-44.

    [38] Hobart, 'Engendering Disquiet,' pp. 121-44.

    [39] The testimony of contemporary observer, Dr Julius Jacobs, in Bali during the 1880s, suggests the Balinese arts world's direct link to looser codes of sexuality. He writes, 'You know that they are boys and it disgusts one to see how, at the end, men from all ranks and conditions of Balinese society offer their coins to perform dances in the oddest attitudes with these children, and it disgusts you still the more when you realise that these children, worn out and dead-tired after hours of perpendicular exercises, are required yet to perform horizontal manoeuvres, first stroked by one, then kissed by another' [italics included]. Cited in John Emigh and Jamer Hunt, Gender bending in Javanese performance, in Gender in Performance: The Presentation of Difference in the Performing Arts, ed. Laurence Senelick, Hanover N.H.: University Press of New England, 1992, pp. 196-218, p. 200.

    [40] See Hanson, 'Representation of, and attitudes towards, gender ambiguity,' p. 2.

    [41] DeBoer, 'Two modern Balinese theatre genres,' pp. 158-59.

    [42] Hughes-Freeland, 'Golek Menak and Tayuban,' p. 92.

    [43] See Kellar, 'The politics of performance,' pp. 44-66; 67-112; 182-91; Kellar, 'Arja Muani as the modern-day agent,' pp. 89-91.

    [44] The Legong Lasem exam, witnessed by the author during her time as a student at STSI, was suggestive of modern society's intolerance of cross-sexed performances in Balinese dance. Three male Legong students participated in this otherwise all girl dance exam. They were dressed in the female costumes of the Legong dance, wearing makeup and jewellery as the role demanded and one student had even shaved off his moustache that morning. However, their confidence waned as they left their changing rooms and got up on stage—embarrassed and nervous in the face of the jeers and laughter of their male peers from the visual arts faculty. Comments like 'Who is the most beautiful?' directed towards these brave male Legong dancers was striking testimony to the rigid ideas about gender identity in the social sector—ideas which made a mockery of this 'liberal' and flexible role allocation characteristic of the Balinese theatre tradition.

    [45] 'Tidak bisa kalau di masyarakat, laki-laki tidak pentas Legong di masyarakat. Kalau masyarakat, laki-laki ambil tarian laki-laki saja,' interview with Sriyanyi, Denpasar, Bali, 20 May 1997.

    [46] See Picard and Darling, Bali: Cultural Tourism and Touristic Culture, pp. 134-63; Hough, Contemporary Balinese Dance Spectacles, pp. 1-19; DeBoer, Two Modern Balinese Theatre Genres, pp. 158-78.

    [47] Picard and Darling, Bali: Cultural Tourism and Touristic Culture, p. 176.

    [48] Hough, Contemporary Balinese Dance Spectacles, p. 2.

    [49] DeBoer, Two Modern Balinese Theatre Genres, p. 176.

    [50] Kellar, 'The Politics of Performance,' p. 156.

    [51] See comments by prominent figures of classic Arja as well as arts academics and observers later in this paper.

    [52] This common remark refers back to an all-male Arja of the past, seeing this new troupe as a reincarnation of an all-male Arja troupe in the 1920s. The original all-male Arja troupe was not called 'Arja Muani' at that time. The informal term for both the male Arja of the past and the contemporary Arja Muani has been Arja Cowok [Guy's Arja].

    [53] Wayan Dibia, 'Arja, a sung dance-drama of Bali: a study of change and transformation,' Ph.D. thesis, Los Angeles: UCLA, 1992, p. 92.

    [54] Colin McPhee, Music in Bali: A Study in Form and Instrumental Organization in Balinese Orchestral Music, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966, p. 16.

    [55] Lyn Parker's identification of an early women's movement in Bali helps to situate women's entry into the genre beginning in the 1920s within its social context. Her study traces the development of domestic science education for young Balinese women which was integral to the move towards women's emancipation. Journals of the 1920s through to the mid 1930s feature Kartini-like calls to emancipate Balinese women, advancing in particular, women's rights to an education so that they may be 'awakened' from the 'darkness' of their ignorance and backwardness. See Lynette Parker, 'Escaping the household of Adat-darkness: domestic science education and the modern Balinese woman, unpublished paper, 1999.

    [56] Kellar, 'The Politics of Performance,' p. 113.

    [57] This helps to explain the extent of enthusiasm for the new men's Arja troupe Arja Muani, as this troupe is considered to represent a return to Arja's male-centric origins—many seeing Arja as having now come full circle in its gender transitions this century.

    [58] 'Sekeras dan halus itu selalu ada pada orang … Everyone has these two characters—now it depends on which one is the main, is the dominant ya?' Interview with then Director of STSI, Professor Dr I Made Bandem, STSI, Denpasar, 19 October, 1997.

    [59] Lenore Lyons, 'Re-telling "us": researching the lives of Singaporean women,' in Love, Sex and Power: Women in Southeast Asia, ed. Susan Blackburn, Clayton: Monash University Press. 2001, pp. 115-128, p. 127.

    [60] Alcoff in Lyons, 'Re-telling "us",' p. 115

    [61] Alcoff in Lyons, 'Re-telling "us",' p. 115

    [62] Ribuwati, Prima, 9 September 1994, p. 6.

    [63] Ribuwati, Prima, p. 6.

    [64] 'Anehnya, saya sejak dulu saya tidak pernah tertarik dengan lelaki. Perempuan dan lelaki saya anggap sama…Saya tidak pernah menyesali pilihan hidup tetap melajang'. Ribuwati, Prima, p. 6. There is an intriguing parallel between Ribuwati's nonconformist lifestyle and Arja circles' acceptance of alternative ideas and attitudes about gender identity and gender roles.

    [65] Candri recalls 'Dia punya ide begitu dan jadinya Arja Cewek. Coba-coba niki'. (He had an idea like that and made ArjaCewek [Women's Arja]. This was a trial group'.) Interview with Ni Nyoman Candri, Singapadu, Bali, 31 August 1997.

    [66] See Picard and Darling, Bali: Cultural Tourism and Touristic Culture, p. 12.

    [67] 'Terus pentas! Sebelum kawin juga terus pentas. Nyoman waktu kawin itu aja tidak ambil menari. Tidak ada gantinya,' interview with Ni Nyoman Candri.

    [68] 'Sudah anak dua bulan sudah mulai menari lagi,' interview with Ni Nyoman Candri.

    [69] 'Tanpa dorongan Bapak tak bisa!,' interview with Ni Nyoman Candri.

    [70] 'Dia ikut persiapkan anak-anak supaya ibu malamnya menari. Dia tidak ke kantor, juga dia mengasuh anaknya sama neneknya itu,' interview with Ni Nyoman Candri.

    [71] 'Katanya dulu ibu almarhum saya, ia menekuni juga tentang tari Arja tapi tidak lanjut—Jadi saya menekuni Arja karena minat sendiri. Mungkin bisa bilang ada keturunan, tapi tidak langsung mendapat bimbingan dari ibu,' interview with Ni Wayan Latri, Keramas, Bali, August 1997

    [72] Conversation, Koming, Singapadu, Bali, January 1997.

    [73] 'Saya harus pisah dari keluarganya. Dia tidak mau pindah,' conversation with I Made Sarjana, Keramas, Bali, August 1997.

    [74] 'Saya yang mengasuh,' conversation with I Made Sarjana.

    [75] 'Ada dorongan, ada motivasi,' interview with Ni Wayan Latri.

    [76] 'Itu mengganggu keluarga,' interview with Ni Wayan Roti, Keramas, Bali, August 1997.

    [77] 'Banyak kekurangan saya,' interview with Ni Wayan Roti.

    [78] 'Yang mana dapat makan ya?' Interview with Ni Wayan Roti.

    [79] 'Kalau cari Arja ia bisa dapat uang untuk mengikuti sekolah itu,' interview with Ni Wayan Roti.

    [80] 'Laki/perempuan bisa. Perempuan bisa! Kalau lakinya, perempuan juga, kalau lakinya wayang, dia perempuannya sama. Sama dengan tari-tarinya. Kalau perempuannya tari oleg, dia laki harus. Itu kewajiban sekolah,' interview with Ni Wayan Rasmini, Batubulan, Bali, 19 September 1997.

    [81] 'Biar sakit bagaimanapun dicarikan dokter saya tak bisa sembuh kalau obat saya cuma menari,' interview with Ni Wayan Rasmini.

    [82] 'Sudah tidak dapat menari empat tahun..Ini apa kesenimanan saya protes—saya tak mau lama-lama di sana. Saya ingin pulang…saya balik …ya bapaknya protes,' interview with Ni Wayan Rasmini.

    [83] 'Anak saya masih kecil. Ya, saya menyerah. Saya kasih kesempatan ke orang lain,' interview with Ni Wayan Rasmini.

    [84] 'Paginya sebelum jam enam saya harus ada di rumah karena Bapak bekerja. Ya, harus menari dapat. Kalau tak diizinkan menari bagaimana ya?' Interview with Ni Wayan Rasmini.

    [85] 'Kita tidak terikat' Interview with Ni Ketut Murdani, Keramas, Bali, 18 October 1997

    [86] 'Kalau pentas, perasaan kemaluan hilang,' interview with Ni Ketut Murdani.

    [87] 'Saya mau lanjutkan ini Arja dulu. Kalau kawin terpaksa berhenti,' interview with Ni Ketut Murdani.

    [88] Brenner, 'Why women rule the roost,' p. 19.

    [89] Widodo outlines how the pengarih [master of ceremonies] of Tayuban who formerly had a secondary position to the joged dancers (formerly being paid by them), now enjoys a dominant status over his dancers accorded by official state sanction. See Widodo, 'The stages of the state,' pp. 1-35.

    [90] Widodo, 'The stages of the state,' p. 21.

    [91] Interview with Ni Ketut Murdani.

    [92] Interview with Ni Wayan Rasmini. Interestingly, this represents another reinterpretation of the customary understanding of Balinese marriage that Jennaway has unveiled in her recent study of North Balinese women. Jennaway reveals an alternative understanding of marriage amongst these women. According to her study, their discourses of marriage represent it as 'a primary strategy, not only in achieving economic security, but also emotional fulfillment and erotic pleasure.' See Megan Jennaway, Sisters and Lovers: Women and Desire in Bali, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2002. p. xiii.

    [93] In reference to the loss of her career hopes to become an accomplished dancer of Arja like her mother, Wayan reflects that it was a shame she married before her career was advanced. 'Salah saya kawin dulu' [It was my mistake marrying first]. Conversation with Ni Wayan Eka Sumantriani, Singapadu home, June 1997.

    [94] Byron J. Good, Medicine, Rationality and Experience: An Anthropological Perspective, Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 69.

    [95] Nilan, 'The social meanings of media for Indonesian youth,' p. 182.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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