Theater group celebrates 25 years of Indian dance drama 
- Robert Paul 

September 8, 2006 

On a recent warm summer evening about forty five miles north of Manhattan, an excited crowd of people ascended a hilltop in the small town of Monroe, New York. There, on an expansive, outdoor stage, they witnessed the enchanting and very unique performance of Ramayana, an ancient and classical drama that depicts the eternal struggle between good and evil.

The audience was transported back in time to a mythological world of gods and demons, kings and queens, and a variety of other characters from all walks of life whose fates unfold and intertwine in mysterious ways. The surrounding hills glowed from the stage lights and echoed with music. Actors and dancers in colorful costumes moved and swirled not only across the stage, but across the adjacent landscape, virtually bringing the characters into the audience's world, and transforming this vivid production from a play into an interactive experience.

Things became even more interactive throughout the performance, such as the scene where the city of Lanka was burned to the ground by the character, Hanuman. Where another production might have used lighting, video or other substitutes to create the illusion of fire, the actor in this production created a real, blazing bonfire on the hillside. The audience did not just see the fire they felt it.

This year marked the 25th annual production of Ramayana by the East-West School of Dance on 29th July 2006 at Ananda Ashram, Monroe, New York. The school was formed in 1981 for the purpose of bringing people from different cultures together through the common language of dance and drama. Indeed, the audience at this performance included people of all ages from many cultural and social backgrounds.

"Ramayana has always brought a wide variety of people together," says Pandit Satya Narayana Charka, Director the East-West School of Dance, and director of all of the past 25 years' performances. "Everyone can relate to this story in their own way. It is based on Hindu mythology, but it tells a story of universal truth that is the same in every culture and language."

Over the course of the past quarter century, Pt Charka, already a well-known and award-winning master of classical Indian dance, has become equally well-known for his Ramayana productions. He has produced critically acclaimed versions of the drama around the world for audiences as large as thirty thousand.

Still, it is the annual New York production that has become a trademark and tradition for Charka and his audience, with some people traveling great distances to attend.

This year's performance was recorded for release on a special DVD commemorating the 25th anniversary. The DVD contains the full performance, as well as a behind the scenes profile of Pt Charka, and interviews with members of the cast and audience.