Visually Enticing Rama Dance Drama at MET Museum

From the elegant Rama, waif-like beauty Sita, fiery villain Ravana, ardent kings, jeweled queens, feathered costumes, and the clinkering ghungroos of classical dancers, last Saturday’s dance drama was a full-fledged artistic production of the Ramayana.

David Pittenger and Ayushi Singh as Rama and Sita (Photo Courtesy of Aminta Kilawan)

In celebration for Diwali “The Indian Festival of Lights”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art held a scintillating, vibrant Ramayana Dance Drama last Saturday on October 15th with over 500 audience members. The Ramayana Dance Drama was held at The Gracey Rogers Auditorium in the Metropolitan Museum of Art located at 1000 Fifth Avenue on 82nd Street from 6:30pm to 8:30pm.

Over thirty ethnically- diverse members of the East-West School of Dance and Ananda Ashram were part of the cast. The production also consisted of 19 East-West classical dancers including a community member Urvashi Kissoon who also performed this past August at the Ramayana in the Park Youth Concert 2011.

The production included ten scenes from the Ramayana. Some scenes of the production proved to be very memorable. A scene that gave some comical value to the drama was the lifting of Shiva’s bow with Rama eventually becoming the only man left standing and able to accomplish the impossible task.

Ravana and Shurpanakha.

Shurphanakha, a demoness, was undoubtedly a well-developed character. In Scene Five, she glides around the stage in a flowing skirt and attempts to make advances towards Lakshman and Rama in the forest. However both Rama and Lakshman reject her.

Scene Ten concluded with Rama’s coronation. It was a happy ending for all including the audience as most were anticipating that Sita would be reunited with Rama.

Concluding scene of Rama’s Coronation. (Photo Courtesy of Aminta Kilawan)

The drama relied on character’s facial expressions, rich costumes, melodies, and dances without any dialogue between the characters. However, the story-telling nature of the narration done by Anuj provided the audience with a better understanding of the drama.

The production was hosted by the Multicultural Advisory Committee along with Lal K. Motwani, President of the National Federation of Indian-American Association (NFIA). Under the Museum’s Multicultural Audience Development Initiative and Education Department, the drama was held as the annual Diwali celebration.

However after speaking to two East-West dancers who were part of the Ramayana Dance Drama both this year and last year they said, “This year they told us it will be our last.”
The word after the performance was that the Advisory Committee is looking for other performers for the annual Diwali celebration after all the Ramayana Dance Drama performed by the East West School of Dance has been held for over three years at the MET.

However, the same dancer saying dejectedly that it will be East West’s last performance at the MET also said, “But they always tell us it will be our last year.” Perhaps the MET can’t find more performances like East West’s Ramayana Dance Drama for the annual Diwali celebration. Either way it’ll be a loss for all who enjoy attending the production each Diwali.

A loss especially for the Director, Choreographer, and Production Manager, Pandit Satya Narayana Charka who has been the head man for directing the drama since its inception.

Me and Pt. Satya Narayana Charka (Photo Courtesy of Aminta Kilawan)

Charka has also been the current director of the East-West School of Dance since 1981. He directed the acclaimed Shakuntala and Krishna Leela in addition to this production of the Ramayana. However, he noted to me in a soft tone and dainty smile that the Ramayana holds a special place in his heart because it is “not only culture” but a production and story that is universal in which all can relate to. One of the best and surprising facts about this play is that it is completely free with admission. It is truly one of the few, quality events that you can place under the “less than a dollar category” for NYC’s rich entertainment in culture and the arts.The Ramayana Dance Drama is a one of a kind production that offers beauty in culture and a story that is as ancient as it is universal. It’s certainly a hope for many that the production can be seen at the MET again next Diwali.


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