Ramayan in US theatre
A leading theatre training school in the US is finalising plans for staging the great Indian epic 'Ramayan'.
The American Conservatory Theatre Master of Fine Arts programme class of 2003 will perform the English adaptation, written and directed by Ruben Polendo. Shows begin on February 27 and run through March 15 at Zeum Theater here.
"Written by saint Valmiki in the fourth century B.C., the Ramayan is a sacred poem based on several Hindu legends. The story helped shape the Hindu worldview by using the dilemmas and choices of the characters to examine such central Hindu beliefs as 'karma', 'dharma', and 'samsara'," the theatre said.
"It is a tale of the enduring love between the great prince Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu, one of Hinduism's triad of principal deities) and the astounding princess Sita.
"The epic follows the young couple's adventures and misadventures as they encounter powerful gods, warriors from distant lands, deceitful demons, and a multitude of fantastic, otherworldly creatures after being banished from their kingdom.
"While the poem is considered among the world's great literary treasures, it is also known as an ever-changing oral text often expressed in contemporary adaptations that reflect time, region and individual interpretation," the school said.
Polendo, a New York writer, director and acting instructor at New York University and The Juilliard School, is the founder and artistic director of Theatre Mitu, a troupe specialising in producing original retellings of stories and myths drawn from predominantly Asian dramatic and spiritual traditions.
"His adaptation of the Ramayan extracts the ancient wisdom of the poem, translates it into a modern story, and uses the confluence of Western and non-Western theatre traditions to give the Ramayan a decisively contemporary flavour," the school's public relations department said.
The New York Times has described Polendo as "a rising stage director" and classified his work as "outside the boundaries of the standard Western drama, which makes for an exciting, fresh theatre-going experience".
Polendo was quoted as saying: "This amazing and wise text has so many stories within it, but the most salient theme -- and the reason the Ramayan continues to resonate with millions of readers, theatregoers and spiritual seekers -- is the endlessly challenging war within one's own heart.
"The wisdom and beauty of this text transcends race and religion and instead delves into the core of what it is to be human."
Known for creating musically charged and visually arresting productions, Polendo will recreate the Ramayan incorporating shadow puppets, masks, ritualised movement, percussion, and multi-ethnic drumming.
Jeffrey Evans, who composed the score, will perform using a combination of West African, Turkish, Indian and Balinese drums as well as self-made and designed drums and percussion instruments.
American Conservatory Theatre director Melissa Smith said: "Ruben is versed in a kind of theatre we really haven't done here and his productions reveal a richly coloured and fully imagined world to us that is both rare and inspiring."
Smith said she relishes the chance to give students an opportunity to explore the Ramayan's larger-than-life, physically demanding roles, and offer audiences the experience of a kind of non-traditional theatre they may not have seen before.
Ranked as one of the top programmes in the nation by US News & World Report and the New York Times, the American Conservatory Theatre's master of fine arts programme was the first theatre training programme in the country not affiliated with a college or university and yet accredited to award the degree.
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