Filipino Rock Opera Ballet, 'Rama, Hari,' Makes Its Epic Comeback

“Rama, Hari,” the Ramayana-inspired rock opera ballet from the minds of five acclaimed National Artists, will be returning to the stage this September. 

When Rama, Hari was last re-staged in 2012, it won 14 Philstage Gawad Buhay Awards. This comes as no surprise, considering that it’s the brainchild of five of the country’s National Artists. With direction and choreography by Alice Reyes, music by Ryan Cayabyab, lyrics and libretto by Bienvenido Lumbera, production design by Salvador Bernal, and English translations by Rolando Tinio, one can expect no less. 

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The 2012 re-staging of "Rama, Hari"
The 2012 re-staging of “Rama, Hari”/Photo courtesy of Alice Reyes Dance Philippines

Now, the highly-acclaimed Filipino rock opera ballet makes its grand return this September with new talents in its roster of amazing collaborators. These include artists from Alice Reyes Dance Philippines and the CCP’s Professional Artist Support Program. Dance trainees from Guang Ming College, Philippine High School for the Arts, De La Salle College of Saint Benilde, and other independent performers will also be participating in the performances. 

Monica Gana as Sita and Ronelson Yadao as Rama
Monica Gana as Sita and Ronelson Yadao as Rama/Photo courtesy of Alice Reyes Dance Philippines

This year’s re-staging is presented by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, in partnership with the Metropolitan Theater and the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and with the generous support of Birch Tree. Shows will take place at the Metropolitan Theater from September 15 to 16, followed by performances at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater on September 22 to 23. 

Rama’s Journey

Rama, Hari  is a modern adaptation of the beloved Sanskrit epic, Ramayana. It’s also the country’s first OPM (Original Pilipino Music) and dance theater masterpiece. The story follows the journey of Prince Rama—the reincarnation of the god Vishnu—as he saves the world and his love, Princess Sita, from the clutches of the evil demon king, Ravana. 

The fight between Ravana (L) and Rama (R)
The fight between Ravana (L) and Rama (R)/Photo by Gita Press Gorakhpur via Wikimedia Commons

The epic has been retold for centuries through traditional performances around South and Southeast Asia. Popular examples include the Kecak dance in Bali and Ramlila in northern India. In making Rama, Hari, the five Philippine National Artists added elements and touches that would resonate with Filipinos. 

Playing the role of Rama is musical theater star Arman Ferrer, with Vien King alternating. Ronelson Yadao and Ejay Arisola will perform as their dance counterparts. Karylle Tatlonghari, Shiela Valderrama-Martinez, and Nica Tupas will alternate in the role of Rama’s wife, Sita. Monica Gana and Katrene San Miguel will perform as their respective dance counterparts.

Arman Ferrer as Rama
Arman Ferrer as Rama/Photo courtesy of Alice Reyes Dance Philippines
Karylle Tatlonghari as Sita
Karylle Tatlonghari as Sita/Photo courtesy of Alice Reyes Dance Philippines

Rak of Aegis star, Poppert Bernadas, will resume the role of demon king Ravana. Los Angeles-based theater actor, Mathew San Jose, will be alternating with Bernadas. Richardson Yadao and Tim Cabrera will be playing their dance counterparts.

Poppert Bernadas as Ravana
Poppert Bernadas as Ravana/Photo courtesy of Alice Reyes Dance Philippines

Meanwhile, Paw Castillo and Jon Abella do double duty as Monkey Army General, Hanuman, and Rama’s brother Lakshmana. 

Attention to Detail

Alice Reyes wove dancers and singers within Rama, Hari’s music score, instead of separating them, to create a holistic staging. She also incorporated various elements from different forms of Asian theater, such as shadow play, hand props, and traditional Indian dance movements.

“My instinct […] was to interpret it in the rock opera ballet medium, with the idea of translating it into very human and contemporary terms,” wrote Reyes in her 1980 choreographer’s notes. 

Nonoy Froilan and Alice Reyes in Rama, Hari
Nonoy Froilan and Alice Reyes in Rama, Hari/Photo courtesy of Alice Reyes Dance Philippines

“I felt this would be a good way of introducing this classic to our Filipino audiences, most of whom may not be as familiar with the story as their Asian brothers,” she continued. 

Composer Ryan Cayabyab created a score that married Southeast Asian musical influences with Western ones. This resulted in an eclectic mix of “Filipinized” music for local audiences. Bienvenido Lumbera’s subtle touches on language further enrich the overall performance. For example, there’s his use of elevated diction for the protagonist and Filipino slang for the demons. Finally, the English translations of Rolando Tinio, as well as the stylized set designs of Salvador Bernal, complete these elements to form a show unlike any other. 

For more information, season subscriptions, and ticket reservations, you may email [email protected]. You can also check out Alice Reyes Dance Philippines at @ARDancePh on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

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