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Flash Review 2, 12-5:
Vibrant & Disappointing Ramayana
A Spectacle with Somewhat Lackluster Performances
By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2000 Rosa Mei
Staging the Ramayana
is a rather daunting task. Think of compressing "Gone with the Wind"
into a 90-minute stage show. Kudos to Potri Ranka Manis for stepping
up to the plate. In creating "Rajah Mangandiri," an adaptation of
the Ramayana, she not only had to create a spectacle to honor an
oral tradition from the Southern Philippines, she also played cultural
anthropologist, mining the royal court dances of the Maranao Sultanate
and integrating them with the complex martial art of Silat. Start
with dancers as birds, fish, butterflies, and ocean trekking boats.
Add in a few fertility celebrations, hanging gongs and polychordal
bamboo zithers and you have a production as complex and multi-faceted
as any Mozart symphony. Potri Ranka Manis's latest take on the Ramayana
(seen this past Sunday at La Mama) for Kinding Sindaw, her company
of Filipino dancers and martial artists, is both vibrant and disappointing.
While the festive gamelan music and ornate, jewel-toned costumes
create a fine sense of spectacle, the somewhat lackluster performances
by the troupe dampen the high spirit of the evening.
The Ramayana, an Indian
epic composed in the fifth century B.C., is a great story, a colorful
tale of love, valor and virtue. A demon king abducts Rama's wife
Sita. Rama is an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Rama enlists
the support of a monkey army to get Sita back and when he does,
she is exiled by the community, which doubts her chastity. She undergoes
an ordeal of fire to prove her virtue and survives. The sultanate
kingdom is united and they all live happily ever after. In Potri
Ranka Manis's adaptation of the Ramayana, Sita becomes the strong
female heroine, indeed the centerpiece of the story, a s/hero for
all times. Interesting, since the Ramayana is often portrayed as
an epic which exalts in submissive females, its heroine Sita seen
as the perfect wife, always obedient to her husband Rama while undergoing
exile and banishment. Indeed, here it is Sita who ends up stabbing
the evil demon Malawana, dealing him his final blow.
Playing the Oracle, Potri
Ranka Manis delivers the most finely nuanced performance of the
evening. Her dancing is gracious and clear, driven by intent and
storyline. Her face, serenely beatific, conveys a warmth which both
beckons and enchants. In fact, Manis sets the standard to which
the other performers simply do not rise. When the village women
enter in a stately processional, lilting in a measured 4/4 time,
they seem detached from the intricate hand and head gestures which
accompany the lush instrumentals. Instead of responding to the rich,
talking gongs, they remain wooden, sometimes appearing stuck in
auto pilot mode. The opulent costumes often made their dancing seem
beside the point.
The men fared only moderately
better in their displays of dancing and martial arts. Frank Ortega,
as the evil Malawana, appeared infinitely more animated playing
the drums on the side than playing the intricate movements of Kali
Silat. In Kali, the end of every movement is the beginning of another
movement. "DeCadena" or chain-like movements where each is connected
to the next is what gives Kali its fluidity. In their demonstrations
of a martial art known for its speed and precision, Ortega and the
other male cast members appeared cloddish, resorting to idle hand
waving and superficial gesticulation to summon the martial spirit.
A few cheery performances
notwithstanding, notably, Andy Febriant Narenda as the mischievous
monkey spirit and Desiree Seguritan as the lovely Sita, the overall
effect of Kinding Sindaw's performance was more ornamental than
spiritual. The fine set design by Perry Yung and the enchanting
Gamelan music simply could not make up for dancers' affected gazes
and a disappointing lack of understanding of weight and carriage.
Wayland Quintero of SLANT directed the production, which runs this
Thursday through Sunday. For more information, please call 212-475-7710.
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