The Integrated Performing Arts Guild (Ipag), the resident theater group of Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, represented the Philippines in the Asean Plus Ramayana Festival held in Bangkok.
Ipag performed at the National Theatre and The Royal Field along with groups from other Asean nations and India. The festival was part of Thailand’s Asean Culture Expo, which aimed to promote the variety of cultures among its member countries.
The “Ramayana” is a Sanskrit epic poem about Rama, an avatar of the god Vishnu, who saves his wife Sita, an avatar of the goddess Lakshmi, after she’s abducted by Ravana, a multi-headed demon king.
Asean countries have their respective versions; the Philippines has Maranao versions which include a portion in the Darangen epic song, from which the singkil dance is derived, and the story of Maharadia Lawana (King Ravana). The Darangen has been declared one of Unesco’s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritages of Humanity.
Ipag performed excerpts from “Sita: The Ramayana Revisited,” an adaptation of the Maranao versions using Filipino language and setting the story in Mindanao, which it first performed in last year’s Asia-Pacific Bureau Theatre Schools Festival in Singapore.
The production incorporated native dance forms such as pangalay, also known as igal or pansak, a dance found in the Samal, Badjao, Jama Mapun and Tausug cultures; and martial/combat dance forms lanka silat and kuntao.
The libretto and direction was by Steven Fernandez, with choreography by the cast, which included Yvonnie Emit (Sita), Restinil Kim Indino (Rama), Gaspar Cortes (Lawana), Trixcel Emborong (Hanuman) and Primo Bagasol (Sugriva/Lakshamana).
They were facilitated by Trixcel Emborong, with music provided by Geejay Langois and Fernandez, costume design by Tres Canteras, props design by Hermi Dico and set and lighting design by Vicmar Paloma.
Fernandez, Ipag’s artistic director, gathered feedback from different personalities during the festival. He said Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn called the group’s work “very impressive,” while Saroja Vaidyanathan from New Delhi, founder of Ganesa Natyalaya dance school and bharatanatyam (a classical dance form) teacher, declared it “the best ‘Ramayana’ in the festival! India should see it!”
“Saroja’s stature in India perhaps approximates that of our National Artists,” said Fernandez. “I was floored when she declared to those sitting around our table, and to their agreement, that the Philippines had the best ‘Ramayana’ production among all the countries.
“A knockout because this came from a guru whose country gave birth to the ‘Ramayana.’ She then described the movements, techniques and intensity of our actors-dancers. I am still awake unbelieving!”
There have been several Philippine adaptations of the epic for the stage. Ballet Philippines’ dance-musical “Rama Hari” premiered in 1980 and was restaged in 2012, with choreography by Alice Reyes, music by Ryan Cayabyab and libretto by Bienvenido Lumbera.
The Philippine Educational Theater Association staged Rody Vera’s “Ang Paglalakbay ni Radiya Mangandiri: Isang Pilipinong Ramayana” in 1993.
SK Productions staged “Rama at Sita” in 1999, a multi-million-peso musical featuring Ariel Rivera as Rama and Lani Misalucha as Sita, using excerpts from “Rama Hari” and new songs by Danny Tan, Roy Iglesias and Dodjie Simon.
The “Ramayana” has also been used before to bridge Asean countries. In 1998, Asean produced “Realizing Rama,” featuring two dancers from each member country, with choreography by Denisa Reyes and book by Nicanor Tiongson.
For the festival’s opening production, which featured all the participating groups presenting different vignettes from the “Ramayana,” Ipag performed Rama and Ravana’s climactic battle scene and Sita’s fire ordeal scene.
“At least four applauses punctuated the Philippines’ 10-minute segment, capped by long hand-clapping during curtain call,” Fernandez said.
He also noted that Thai musician Manop Wisuttipat, the composer of a portion in the opening production, had studied at the University of the Philippines under National Artists for Music José Maceda and Ramon Santos.
Ipag performed two more times during the festival. “Epics are not only about heroes and what they confront, but reveal the societies and time these heroes come from,” he says.
“These stories show values and the way people deal with their realities; these narratives reveal how deep people cherish the hopes they strive for. Epics all over the world share truths about humanity, values we all uphold, saying that we are not different from the rest.”
Based in Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, Ipag has represented the country in over 100 cities worldwide. The group received the 2015 Gawad Pedro Bukaneg from the Unyon ng Mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas. The group’s founding chair, Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa, received the 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Award for her work in dance.
Ipag’s participation in Asean Plus Ramayana Festival was supported by a grant from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
Like Integrated Performing Arts Guild (Ipag) on Facebook.