In times of cross-border conflict and religious strife, Sethu (Bridge) connects cultures and ways of understanding. An international cast led by Ragamala Music and Dance Theater comes together with spiritual energy for a powerful retelling of the epic Hindu myth, the Ramayana. This captivating outdoor spectacle features 50 performers from Bali, the Twin Cities, and around the globe, and combines Bharatanatyam (South Indian classical dance) choreography, Javanese Gamelan, with Balinese kecak (the famous “Balinese monkey chant” rarely heard outside of Indonesia). Concept by Ranee Ramaswamy; created in collaboration with I Dewa Putu Berata of the Balinese gamelan ensemble Cudamani, Joko Sutrisno of the Indonesian Performing Arts Association of Minnesota (IPAAM), Aparna Ramaswamy, and vocalist Nirmala Rajasekar. Commissioned by the Walker Art Center and presented as part of the Artist-in-Residency (AIR) program.
Sethu will be presented on Monday, September 13, at 7:30 pm if the Sunday performance or both Saturday and Sunday are canceled due to weather.
RAMAYANA: THE STORY OF RAMA AND SITA
The epic story of Rama and Sita–their marriage, their exile to the forest, their battle with the demon Ravana, and the restoration of their kingdom–originated in India, but for 2,000 years has traveled throughout Asia, absorbing regional traditions and inspiring diverse re-interpretations. It is a complex text that does not provide easy answers, but rather functions as a paradigm through which Asian culture perceives itself (adapted from text by Philip Lutgendorf, Chair, South Asian Studies Program, University of Iowa).
Wayne Vitale, director of the California ensemble Gamelan Sekar Jaya, has spent 25 years researching and documenting Balinese musical traditions, including kecak. Preferring the old Indonesian spelling of the word–ketjak–he offers a brief background into the island’s famed “monkey chant”:
A unique blend of music, movement, and dramatic action, ketjak was created in its present form in the 1930s as a new accompaniment for the Ramayana dance drama. Ketjak was based on a ritual exorcism in which young girls are put into trance with prayers, incense, a female singing choir, and rhythmically interlocking chanting performed by a male chorus. The ancient ketjak ensemble consisted of perhaps a dozen men, each making the distinctive tjak-tjak-tjak sound blending into a complex rhythmic pattern. In modern ketjak (often called simply “tjak”) the chorus of chanting men can be enlarged to 100 or more chanter/dancers, who sit in concentric circles around an oil lamp at night. Instead of simple repetitious chanting, the chorus performs a highly-structured piece of vocal music and movement of an hour or more in length. The chorus may sing melodies derived from the arja opera tradition and also may be used themselves as Busby Berkeley-style props, becoming Hanuman’s monkey army or the waves of an ocean.
Walker Commission; A Global Performance Collaboration