BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
The vibrancy of flavors and colors of the performing arts traditions of South Asia combine with a Shakespeare in the Park-like outdoor enchantment October 9 at the historic Naper Settlement in Naperville presented by Mandala South Asian Performing Arts.
“It’s not Bollywood, but The Story of Ram has all the flavor and fervor of India,” Pranita Nayar, Executive Artistic Director and Founder of Mandala South Asian Performing Arts, explains. “It’s the Asian answer to The Nutcracker. We know the plot, but it’s the visual treats—the costuming, make up, masks, music, and movement—that make it surreal. It is the ancient epic of Ramayana with a 2021 multicultural twist to make a global experience. An added joy is that we are doing this outdoors at an historic 19th century outdoor location.”
This is the seventh year of Mandala’s Ram, always performed on the Indian holiday of Diwali, the Festival of Light, which marks the first day of the New Year. The storyline for the more than 1,000-year-old epic involves Prince Rama, who is exiled to the forest, his wife, Sita, who is kidnapped, and Ravana, King of Sri Lanka, whom the hero must battle to re-capture his wife.
A further delight: the audience becomes a part of the tale as the narrator walks them from scene to scene where different groups of performers are stationed. Drumming and music will carry the audience of all ages along.
“We are calling this our Chicago version of the epic. Dancers from across Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Brazil take part. Our work is about the Indian diaspora and influences from Africa, South America, and across southeast Asia are present as well. We are about breaking barriers, celebrating the melting pot, only happy when we are trying new things,” she shares.
One of the most vibrant artists we have ever interviewed, Nayar brings together an innovator’s vision and a global perspective. Born in India where she studied classical dance, she received a master’s degree in dance ethnography from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana: “I wanted to learn how to take an ancient dance form and make it relevant.”
Mandala dancers are all trained in classical Indian movement and most have ballet and jazz backgrounds as well. “It isn’t a format for dabblers,” Nayar says.
With upcoming performances scheduled in Boston and at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre in December, Mandala has enchanted audiences here recently at “Nights Out in the Park” and “Chicago Alive Again” at Navy Pier.
“Rain or shine, this is going to happen. We like being on the edge, it makes it all the more exciting,” Nayar states.
Mandala’s Academy offers classes and workshops for children, teens, and adults in Lincoln Park and downtown Chicago fall through spring. For more information, visit mandalaarts.org.