Alexander Dea is an ethnographer-performer living in Central Java documenting, with video and audio, the last remaining masters of classical performing arts. He also makes new works with Asia’s contemporary and classical artists, Didik Nini Thowok, the late Ben Suharto, Ramli Ibrahim, and others. He writes on dance activity both traditional and modern.
During the first (and up to now, last) performance in October 2002 of the carefully and laboriously reconstructed sacred Bedhaya Semang in the Yogyakarta Palace—an aspiration to rival or at least to balance that of the Bedhaya Ketawang in the competing sister city’s Surakarta Palace—the Sultan Hamengku Buwana X, in full Javanese ceremonial dress sat on the upper level of the royal hall, and gave audience to the public for his coronation anniversary. As official videographer of the reconstruction, my attention was on the dance. I was shocked to hear reports that while my eyes were on the dancers rather than the Sultan, at some point he had lit up a cigar during the performance.