New York Ramayana
presented by Lotus Fine Arts Productions and Hunter College Continuing Education
At the Danny Kaye Playhouse
Lotus can be reached at 212-627-1076 or www.lotusarts.com.
June 14, 2003
Rajika Puri insisted that I attend the New York Ramayana, and once again I am glad I took her advice. This performance, which is a once a year event, combined the talents of three dance companies to present a show that was at once traditional and progressive.
The Ramayana is the story of Rama, a pivotal figure from ancient India. This archetypical saga has spread to many other cultures. The details of the saga differ from one culture to another, but the basic theme is the same. Tonight's performance presented a series of traditional segments from the Ramayana, alternating Indian, Burmese, and Philippine versions of the dance.
Rama grows up, wins the love of his bride, Sita, in an archery contest, suffers a palace intrigue and goes into exile, has adventures in the forest with his friends, and finally regains his rightful place on the throne of his kingdom. The alternation of the three different versions of the story did not detract from the overall flow of the show. Rajika did a great job framing each scene so that people unfamiliar with the story could better see what was going on. Plus, her body is so expressive when she moves, and so amazingly still between movements. Having never seen the Ramayana performed before, I am not certain if traditionally the show has the kind of Brechtian structure used here, but regardless, I thought the structure was effective. If I have a criticism of the show, it is that the Brechtian elements ought to be taken further. My reading of the performance is that following the story depends upon iconic references that a traditional audience knows because they grew up with the story, but a new audience may not pick up these references. A section of the program showing each major character in the costume of each of the three dance traditions might be enough to help a new audience orient themselves to what they see on stage.
I will touch on a few highlights from the show. In the first Indian section (Young Rama), I found the battle with the demoness particularly compelling. I have seen many of these dancers before performing as the Triniyan Collective. While they danced well then, I noticed subtle improvements. They danced with visible confidence. In the first Burmese section (The Archery Contest), the dancers used beautiful hand motions. The dancers precise wrist movements accented the major beats in the music. The Philippine sections were danced to live music, which consisted largely of metallic drumming. The first such section, the Wedding of Rama and Sita, included a very energetic fan dance with what looked like rotating pinwheels. This makes two shows in a row I have seen at the Kaye Playhouse with dancing to live music (the previous time being the Chamber Dance Project), and once again the integration of the two arts was expertly done.
One of my favorite parts of the show was the Golden Goat/Deer section, done in the Philippine style. Amira Aziza danced a sophisticated portrayal of a goat (a deer in the Indian version of the story). She captured the character of a goat without relying on pure imitation of a goat's movements. In fact, she did such a good job of capturing the cross cultural essence of the animal, that when I was watching the performance, I saw a deer. The point, in all versions of the story, is that Sita sees a magical beast that appears to be delicate and harmless, yet the delicate appearance is an illusion. And so it was tonight. I also liked the creative use of a long cloth that connected Sita and the demon as they danced together, finally being used by the demon to bind Sita and capture her.
The next section, the Search for Sita, done in the Burmese style, features music that sounded like something out of the 1920s. The music and dance had the same energy as a Charleston or a Peabody. There were even a couple of underarm turns. Of course, if they actually had put a Peabody in the Ramayana, the audience, assuming they were strict traditionalists, would probably have exclaimed "They are under Ravana's evil spell!"
The performance was largely traditional dance, but the gender roles shown were not entirely what are thought of as "traditional". For instance, in the pivotal battle scene, Sita, it turns out, is not to be messed with. Even when tied up she delivers several critical blows to her captor.
The finale presented a reunion and coronation danced by all three groups of dancers, each in turn and then together. The commonalities among the three dance styles were evident as the show progressed, especially similarities in the use of hand motions. This was a great show that is worth seeing the next time they stage it, whether you are Indian, Burmese, Philippine or not. Since the annual staging of the New York Ramayana is intended as a continuing creative process, and not just as a fixed presentation of traditional dance, I would suggest that the collaborators take advantage of having three versions of each character. They should take up the choreographic challenge of having, for instance, the three versions of Rama dance together. It could be a way of intensifying and commenting on the characters and the story. Or make Rama be from one culture and Sita be from another so that they have to mesh their styles of dance to overcome the evil in the world.
Tonight clearly showed that the Ramayana is a saga worth telling multiple times in multiple ways.
Rajika Puri as Sutradhari (Narrator)
Photo courtesy of Carl Roodman
Khine Zar Pwint as 'Thida' (Sita) and U Win Maung as 'Yama' (Rama)
Photo courtesy of Carl Roodman
Final scene of the New York Ramayana with all three dance companies
Photo courtesy of Carl Roodman
NAME - ROLE
Rajika Puri - Narrator
Bani Ray (Odissi) - King Dasaratha and Sita
Malabika Biswas - Ahilya
Sylvia Lim - Bharata
Kakoli Mukherjee - Sage Vashishtha
Alicia Pascal - Tataka, Mantara, Hanuman, Shatrugan
Taiis Pascal - Queen Kaikeyi, Sage Vishwamitra
Nandini Sikand - Lakshmana
Nalini Singh - Rama
Anjali Singhal - Bharata
Kron Vollmer - Sita, opening puja
Potri Ranka Manis (Filipino) - Oracle
Johanna Kiamzon - Court Dancer
Amira Aziza - Court Dancer and Goat
Diane Camino - Sita
Doy Hatta - Musician (Klutang, Dabakan, Agong, Babandir)
Brian Ortega - Hanuman Musician
Guro Frank Ortega - Ravana Musician
Lisa Parker - Musician (Kulintang, Agong, Klutang, Sarunay)
Malaika Queano - Court Dancer
Nur Noni Queano - Musician (Kulintang, Klutang, Agong, Dabakan) and Sultan
Ray Tamarra - Lakshmana
Kim Toscano - Court Dancer
Tomas Jason Trinidad - Rama
Rose Yapching - Court Dancer
Zeana Llamas - Flower girl (wedding)
U Win Maung (Burmese) - Rama
Nay Win Aung - Red Prince
Zaw Win Aung - Blue Prince
Malar Bu - Jatayu (the messenger bird)
Tin Maung Cho - Lakshmana
San Chu - Archery judge
Kyaw Tha Hla - Ravana
Ni Ni Htun - Gumbee (Ravana's sister)
Aye Aye Phyo - Lady-in-waiting II
Khine Zar Pwint - Sita
Khine Zar Tun - Lady-in-waiting I
Ben Manley - Sound
Jeff Nash - Lighting
Eliot Byron - Lighting
Mike Giordano - Lighting
Brian Worzecka - Lighting
Josh Diamond - Stage Manager
Todd McCraw - Stage Manager
Maria Joaquina Nunez - Wardrobe
Richard Coumbs - Production Manager
John Jones - House Manager
HUNTER CONT. ED