Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ramayana Ballet


My visiting professor friend provided me the excuse and motivation to make the trip out to Prambanan to see the Ramayana Ballet on Tuesday night (7 April 2009). I last saw this sendratari more about 20 years ago (if memory serves)- the ballet itself, a national project initiated by President Sukarno, has been running since 1961. We saw the so-called full version, all episodes condensed into a single 2 hour dance drama. (It is also performed over 3 or 4 nights.)

Dancing remains at a reasonably high level. Costumes are fresh. Blocking is clean. The temple backdrop remains stunning. And particularly the garepan for gamelan is lovely - dramatically exciting, precise, and supportive of the story.

Most of the audience the night we attended seeemed to be school kids from Jakarta on a study tour. They arrived in buses and left a huge mess outside the theatre (remnants of nasi kotak) . They received a long talk in Indonesian before the show about the Ramayana, and were generally well-behaved for the duration of the performance.

Some of the highlights for me included Marica (a lovely Cakil dancer - energetic and humorous), the golden deer (great choreography, imaginative costume, lithe execution), the burning of Alengka (the close of Act I - we could feel the heat as the straw structures erected at the back of the stage caught fire), the dismemberment of Kumbakarna. The arrow shooting (not always perfectly accurate) felt a bit gimmicky to me - I would have preferred something more symbolic. My daughter Hannah felt a bit let down about Jatayu - the dancer was bird-like but I think more work could be done on this to give the bird's flight majesty and grandeur. Rahwana was bit overweight (almost as big as Kumbakarna) but was energetic, proud, vain - a really convincing despot. Rama, Sinta and Laksmana were all a bit empty as characters, and Hanoman received very little time on stage. It is nice to see local children performing as monkeys but their antics could have been more humorous and varied.

All in all a very entertaining spectacle that presents the tale in a succinct but not watered-down form. My daughter Hannah, who knows the Ramayana well after assisting me in a 12 hour version I performed at the British Library last spring, said she'd now like to read the epic. And I think other children present might also be inspired to learn more.

1 comment:

Manny said...

I have heard a lot about this spectacular Ramayana Ballet in Indonesia. I found it to be a very different dance program depicting the Javanese culture.