BRINGING BACK a highly acclaimed production that was staged quite successfully a few times since its premiere in 1980 is no small feat, not to mention the fact that it’s a rock opera-ballet that came about with the involvement of five National Artists.
But Rama, Hari, presented by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and featuring Alice Reyes Dance Philippines and CCP’s Professional Artist Support Program, rises to the occasion and exceeds expectations.
With a two-night gala at the restored Manila Metropolitan Theater on Sept. 16 and 17, the production cemented its place as one of this year’s biggest cultural events, merging worlds of arts, culture, and heritage and putting Filipino talent at the forefront. If the show itself didn’t bring one to their knees, the venue surely did.
For Alice Reyes, National Artist for Dance and the production’s director and choreographer, taking on the distinctly Filipino interpretation of the beloved Sanskrit epic Ramayana was a no-brainer.
It was supposed to be the closing show for Ballet Philippines’ 50th season in 2020, but was canceled due to lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. After establishing her own company, Alice Reyes Dance Philippines, in 2022, Ms. Reyes knew that Rama, Hari would be one of its most important productions.
“I’m glad to see you all here, patiently and excitedly waiting to enjoy the show that we’ve worked so hard on for many, many months, even years,” she said during the technical dress rehearsals on Sept. 14.
“I hope this will be a fascinating experience especially for all of you young people here,” she told the high school students in attendance. They were the main audience at the rehearsals as part of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and CCP’s initiatives to expose the youth to Filipino arts and culture.
The 2023 restaging is led by Lester Reguindin, with Aaron Veloso as executive producer. Aside from Ms. Reyes, the other National Artists who helped bring this version of the Ramayana to life are Ryan Cayabyab for music, the late Salvador Bernal for production design (the design used in the production is his 1980 original), Bienvenido Lumbera for the lyrics and libretto, and Rolando Tinio for the English translations.
However, before the crowd of students were granted a preview of the highly anticipated production, they were noticeably abuzz with excitement taking pictures inside and outside the beautifully rehabilitated theater. Before the show officially started, the host welcomed them with tidbits about the place, and finally about the Ramayana itself.
For this particular show, the Orchestra of the Filipino Youth, conducted by Toma Cayabyab, ushered in the strong, beginning notes of the brief musical overture kicking off the ride that is Rama, Hari.
The curtain opened and the chitchat among the young ones instantly fell to a hush as both dancers and singers burst forth onstage, introduced one by one with much fanfare.
Dancers Ronelson Yadao and Monica Gana interpreted the emotions of Rama and Sita in graceful, majestic movements while singers Arman Ferrer and Shiela Valderrama-Martinez portrayed the remarkable scenes in the couple’s life through lines both spoken and sung.
The young audience loved the chemistry displayed by both pairs, receiving every major scene with enthusiastic applause. Despite the minor hiccups that are common in technical dress rehearsals, the crowd was very receptive, and the afternoon ended in high spirits.
On the way out, Ms. Alice Reyes allowed eager groups of students to take selfies with her, commending them for their clear interest in the arts and encouraging them to pursue their passions.
“This production proudly showcases the best of the best that Filipino artists have to offer, and it fills me with joy that many young people find value in that,” she said.
After the two-night gala on Sept. 15 and 16 at the Manila Metropolitan Theater, the show will move to the Samsung Performing Arts Theater at Circuit Makati for performances on Sept. 22 and 23. For more information, visit @ARDancePh on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. — Brontë H. Lacsamana