Indian culture and mythology spans centuries, giving birth to hundreds of tales about various gods and goddesses, royals and monsters. So it stands to reason that the 2017 Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts would open with an adaptation of one of the most famous tales of all – the Ramayana.
Focusing on the life and adventures of the monkey god Hanuman (played by Hari Padman) as he assists Rama in saving his beloved Sita from the ten-headed Ravana, Anjaneyam – Hanuman’s Ramayana was epic in scale and production. Combining dance, music and theatre, Apsaras Arts (Singapore), Era Dance Theatre (Singapore), Kalakshetra Repertory Theatre (India), Bimo Dance Theatre (Indonesia) and the Esplanade have truly created a worthy production that does justice to the epic poem it was adapted from.
For Anjaneyam, music was one of the key parts of the production, and the stirring original score by Dr Rajkumar Bharathi did not disappoint, transporting us immediately to ancient times, immersing us in a world of heroes and gods. Furthermore, this was amplified by the Esplanade’s specially designed quadrophonic surround sound system, allowing the live music to fill the entire theatre from all sides. Whether it was the emotive vocals or the excellent gamelan players, along with other traditional instruments such as the tabla and sitar, the live orchestra added a new layer of depth to the drama, impressing us with their atmospheric sound.
Combining traditional bharatanatyam and Javanese dance sequences, one could see the sheer amount of impeccable planning that had gone into choreographing each tiny detail, down to the synchronized clinking of the dancers’ anklets, their precise movements in complete unison with each other. Hero Rama (P.N. Vikas) and his three brothers were cast extremely well, looking so similar you could swear they were related by blood in real life.
Anjaneyam has also been blessed with a huge, visually spectacular set, helped by the well-choreographed mass numbers bringing across the scale of the production. Each set change was done seamlessly and one felt as if one was truly in a grand temple or woods, thanks to Gyan Deb Singh and Knownsense Studios’ projection mapping of realistic backgrounds. In particular, we were blown away by antagonist Ravana’s court in Lanka, a grand set where an army of dancers emerged to entertain us and one truly felt the grandiose nature of the palace.
There was never a dull moment during the show, as the story flowed easily from one scene to another and the audience eagerly awaited Hanuman’s every move, each character well-lit and assisted by precise follow on spotlights, thanks to the capable technical crew operating the light system. As we watched Hanuman grow from a child into a clever, lithe monkey god, one felt immediately aligned with his charming personality, and it’s easy to see why he’s remained one of the most beloved characters in Indian mythology even centuries later.
It was heartwarming to see the impact of Anjaneyam on the excited crowd, their eyes completely locked on the action unfolding before them. Anjaneyam is completely deserving of the standing ovation it received at the end of the performance, a testament to the incredible talent we witnessed tonight from Singapore, India and Indonesia. This is precisely what a cross-cultural event at the Esplanade should feel like; a melting-pot of cultures and abilities coming together to produce an epic show that will live on deep in our hearts and minds, one we won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
Photos courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Performance attended 17/11/17
Kalaa Utsavam 2017 takes place from 17th – 26th November at the Esplanade. For the full list of programmes and tickets, visit the Esplanade website here