Every performance of the Ramayana that I attend, I try to change things up a little bit so that I’m not doing the same thing all the time. I always help out backstage, but some days I spend more time sitting in the dressing room with the girls and some days I spend more time sitting outside the dressing room. Or some days I watch more of the performance while other days I watch less. This past Tuesday, I watched the whole thing, something that normally never happens.
I stationed myself in my usual spot, waiting to watch the introduction before heading back to the dressing room. As I was standing there, my dance teacher’s sister, a dancer in her own right, came to stand beside me. We listened to the usual pre-show synopsis and I shook my head–as I often do during the actual scene–at the part when Rama denies Sita. This was enough to get my dance teacher’s sister to start talking, and she didn’t stop until the show was over.
“I love that scene and I hate that scene,” she told me. Sometimes, she said, with the right instrumentation, she’ll cry when she’s dancing Sita.
She then went on to discuss her interpretations of most of the characters in the Ramayana as well as how those interpretations can be expressed through small changes in costume or movement. You could say, she told me, that Ravana is just looking for love. Besides the kidnapping and imprisonment, he does nothing against Sita’s wishes. “He does bad things,” she said, “But he’s also a king.” When she would put together his costume, she always gave him a yellow scarf instead of the usual red for bad characters.
She talked through the entire performance, sometimes providing comments about the current scene (she’s late), sometimes talking about past performances, and sometimes giving background and explanations of parts of the story–adding in details not covered in the performance. In truth, I barely watched what was going on onstage. I watched her face instead and gripped the chair in front of me to keep my hands from shaking.
Now, I’ll be honest. My dance teacher’s sister has to be nice to me because I work with her father, so this conversation didn’t have the added coolness factor of someone-is-talking-to-me-who-doesn’t-have-to-be-talking-to-me. And this conversation also occured, for the most part, in English. There were the occasional Indonesian phrases (“He’s really going to die if he goes into that fire.”) but I won’t pretend that I would have been able to understand half the things she said to me if they were in Indonesian.
Nevertheless, by the time she went home, I was shaking. My thank you, even though I said it in Indoneisan, didn’t come close to expressing how I felt. There was so much to think about. I couldn’t sit still.
When I started going to to UKJGS’s Ramayana performances, I knew I had a lot to catch up on. Everyone else already had familiarity with the performance, with the dance form, with the story. That’s why I go to every performance: I need to make up for lost time; I need to try–as much as I can–to gain the sort of familiarity that I have with Nutcracker. I have a lot to learn and only two years to do it.
And then here was someone who’d been dancing Sita for seven years who talked me through the whole production in detail, throwing in stories about superstitions and anecdotes about the dancers.
She left and I paced back and forth waiting for the bus to be ready to leave, standing up, sitting down, brain reeling from taking in so much information all at once.
“I always did research before I danced a new role,” she told me.
I could tell.