Theatre Studies Field Trip to Yogyakarta

As part of her coursework for TS4217 Cultural Performance in Asia, Theatre Studies major Phan Yi-Wen participated in a field trip to Yogyakarta which afforded her a first-hand glimpse of some theatre and performance practices in the region. Below she recounts highlights of her field trip:


“Yogyakarta is a beautiful place and I am glad to have been given the opportunity to go there. This trip was crafted as part of the syllabus of TS4217 and aimed at giving students a first-hand experience at observing how ethnographic work may be conducted.


This enriching 4-day 3-night journey began with a visit to Prambanan Temple, which is said to be the most beautiful Hindu temple in the world. At night, we watched Sendratari Ramayana, a ballet performance in an open-air theatre with the Prambanan Temple as a spectacular backdrop. The performance was magnificent so imagine my delight the very next day when we participated in a costumed dance workshop to learn a simplified movement sequence from the same show. Also, we partook in a gamelan workshop in which we tried to master a short sequence and performed it to an audience. It was definitely not as easy as it seemed and a troupe of talented, young gamelan performers put us to shame. That same night, I finally was able to see an actual Wayang Kulit performance by a professional troupe. Did you know that a Javanese Wayang Kulit performance may be up to 9 hours long? I did not but the performance ignited my interest towards the different puppets. Each and every single one of the puppets is a work of art, requiring skill, time and effort. At Gendeng village, a master puppet maker gave us a lesson on puppet-making. While we spent minutes struggling to cut a decent hole in a piece of scrap leather, the master did it perfectly and effortlessly within seconds. It was definitely not as easy as it seemed and one needs to personally attempt it to understand how difficult it really is. Lastly, we toured the Sultan’s palace, also known as Kraton, and enjoyed a free-and-easy afternoon to explore the rest of the city. For a few hours, I was stuck at the row of shops, busy looking for unique trinkets and batik prints while communicating with the locals with my broken Bahasa Indonesia language. For those who have never experience bargaining at a street market, this would definitely be a fun experience.


All in all, this was a learning journey which allowed me a peek into the world of practice-based research. My final research may not be related to the cultures of Yogyakarta or Wayang Kulit but this experience has shown me the important difference between observing and doing. For example, if I had not actually attempted to learn the ‘Sendratari Ramayana’ dance, I would have failed to realise the unnoticeable twirling of fingers and tapping of feet that makes this beautiful piece. Watching a performance may be enough to recognise its value and beauty but practicing it first-hand allowed me to truly appreciate it.”