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Prince Rama's Journey Fuses Gamelan with Theater

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For Prince Rama's Journey, opening tonight at the Avalon Theatre, Green T Productions and Sumunar Indonesian Music and Dance join together for a new adaptation of one of the most widely celebrated epics of southeastern Asia. Combining physical theater with Gamelan music and dance, the collaboration brings the story of Ramayana to life. 

Originally written in Sanskrit around the 4th or 5th century by a poet named Valmiki, the story of Ramayana has been adapted widely into many different languages and has inspired many cultural traditions -- not to mention films, books, poems, performances, and other media. It's got everything you could want in an adventure story: a beautiful princess held captive, humorous characters, demons, and an army of monkeys. 

According to Joko Sutrisno, who runs Sumunar with his wife, dancer Tri Sutrisno, the story of Ramayana is very well known throughout Asia. In Java, the Indonesian country that Joko is from, you can see a performance of the story almost any night of the week. 

The challenge for him, he says, is in collaborating on a piece that is beyond just using dance, but drama as well. He began by choosing music that might work with the eight sections of plot that make up the performance, and then making alterations along the way as he sat in rehearsal and saw what was effective and what wasn't.

In addition to the 12 musicians that play continuously throughout the performance, seven dancers perform as part of the story. Initially, Welch conceived of the dancers coming onstage at certain moments, such as during the wedding celebration and the court of the bad guys, but through the rehearsal process, they found a deeper connection between the 11 actors and the dancers. 

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For example, the role of Rama's wife is played by two different performers: an actor and a dancer. The same is true for a deer that entices Rama to chase after it so that his wife can be kidnapped. 

The actors also join the dancers in a big piece at the end. "The challenge is how to blend the elements to make one living piece," Sutrisno says.

While Green T has incorporated live music in past productions, they've never had a show where there was such an intimate connection with the musicians. This has resulted in some intense back and forth on how the story, music, and dance all work together. The last week of rehearsal has been about handing the rains to Sutrisno. "He's really orchestrating it now," Welch says.

Green T and Sumunar Indonesian Music and Dance first collaborated about five years ago for Minneapolis's former Mosaic Festival. Kathy Welch, Green T's artistic director, has trained extensively in Asian theater forms. She had been taking classes with Sumunar, and together the two companies created Flowing Water, which opened the festival. 

Currently, the two companies share a studio space. After Prince Rama's Journey, they plan to continue to work together in the spring on a project funded by the Knight St. Paul Challenge grant.

IF YOU GO:

Prince Rama's Journey

October 31 through November 9

In the Heart of the Beast's Avalon Theatre

1500 E. Lake St., Minneapolis