Photo: Thomas Lehmen
As my hotel is reasonably close to the palace, I can walk for a change. Today, a Sunday, things should be a bit quieter in Solo; last night I even managed to sleep for several hours at a time. But political parties campaigning for the up-coming election have organized a series of motorcycle parades across the city. These parades are an ear-splitting affair – surely they were staging a race and not a parade?
The Prince receives me and, after a short time, I realize that you can only fool around with him in the morning. The Prince is obviously an immensely talented man. His highly expressive manner and sense of humour make him a world class comedian. Despite our occasionally differing opinions, we strike up a friendly rapport and I sense that the Prince is somebody you can believe in. My intuition is later proved correct when the Prince demonstrates his serious interest in and support of the arts. A member of the Prince’s staff, Daryono, a historian and lecturer for traditional dance, provides me with some background information and outlines their approach to the reconstruction of historic palace dances.
In the evening, the Prince is more serious. Perhaps his duties have exhausted him. He invites me to join him in a spacious European-style theatre, where traditional performances are staged every night. The audience smokes, watches, eats, chats, and comes and goes without anyone being annoyed by all this bustling activity. The Prince hints at a few necessary renovations. Clearly I have not been invited merely to admire the glorious beauty of the theatre. At dinner, the Prince, who is visibly depressed, laments the growing loss of this cultural city’s special character.
But dance is still hugely popular. The next day I attend the rehearsals and public performances at the palace. The mesmerizing sounds of the gamelan orchestra transport the audience into a space where time ceases to exist. The grace and beauty of the dancers are almost dizzying. Then, after forty-five minutes of meticulously choreographed movements, the dancers draw their knives and, smiling serenely, begin a dance that tells of a political assassination … or perhaps it is intended to warn us of the need to respect the unique beauty of this dance.