To celebrate the collaboration between Festival Bambu Sleman and Ngayogjazz 2019, the villagers of Padukuhan Kwagon came together to witness the spectacle of the Jathilan, a show where elaborately dressed dancers move and twist around a stage in a trance before falling to the ground possessed, the spirits removed by a group of elders.
Heard perhaps from the next two villages, today’s Jathilan was more than just something to watch, but a whole-body experience. Taking place in a marquee with the audience stood around the edges, a gamelan orchestra positioned at the front amplified by a huge sound system at the back, the marquee was transformed into an island of sound. As the music reverberated, it was difficult to centre thoughts on anything other than the scene in front, and you found yourself almost in a trance along with the dancers.
The beginning of each section started slow, with dancers swaying and twisting, bare feet moving from left to right in the dust before the tempo picked up and the sequences became sporadic. At this point some performers threw themselves to the ground, some chewing incense, others contorted into unnatural shapes. Sometimes they danced with a kuda lumping, an intricately decorated wooden horse which was ridden in a circle or held up in the air. Those within the dance who were not possessed threw rose petals and theatrically held those in a trance to stop them from falling. The audience, made up of young and old alike, watched on without speaking, some obviously having seen a hundred Jathilanin their life, others looking on in awe for the first time.
The fluidity of the Jathilan, at once free form but at the same time contained within a tight sequence, makes it an event fitting for the opening of a jazz festival. If jazz is about losing yourself in the rhythms and melodies of improvisation, so too you can see this in the spirit of Jathilan. As the performance came to a close and the final dancers were directed off stage, make up smeared and covered in dust, thus marks the beginning of an exciting Ngayogjazz 2019!