Before my most recent trip, I had visited Prambanan Temple twice and had not seen the Ramayana Ballet at Prambanan – the actual number one thing to do at Prambanan Temple – twice. During my first visit, I didn’t even enter the temple complex and instead, persuaded the guards to let me view the temple through the ballet performance area before the show and during my second one, I was just too tired to wait for the show to begin. But apparently, third time’s the charm because at the beginning of this month, I finally went to Prambanan Temple, went to the performance area (legally this time) and watched the Ramayana Ballet.
Ramayana Ballet is only performed on certain dates so before you go, don’t forget to check the schedule on their official website. There are two performance areas: Trimurti Theater and the outdoor theater. If you check their official site, you’ll probably notice that the tickets for the outdoor show is more expensive and that’s because some of the show’s special effects can only be displayed outside. Regardless of where it’s performed though, you’ll get the complete story of Ramayana by watching the show.
The show starts at 7.30 PM, but it’s best to be there before the actual time to buy the tickets and have your photo taken with some of the cast. I thought this was the only chance to take photos with the cast and apparently, other audience members thought the same. There was no queue system and those who run to the cast first will be served first. Apparently, there were more photo opportunities later on during the break and after the show.
The photo area is actually just outside of the entrance to the performance area. Entrance to this area requires a ticket. Inside this area is a courtyard with a refreshments booth, a souvenir booth, a stage for gamelan players who entertain the audience with their music as we wait for the show to begin, and the toilets. Another layer of ticket checking is required before finally getting to the theater.
The ticketing system here works like the movies: with each ticket, there is a specific seat number. There are several seating areas with different ticket prices and my dad and I chose the Special Seats for IDR275.000 which had a great, straightforward view of the stage from the back row and came with a free refreshment of choice. The seats for this class are basically cushioned cement with a back rest. The great thing about my seats was that I got a great view of the majestic Prambanan Temple in the background along with a great view of the entire stage.
At 7.30 PM, the show started with two MCs welcoming the audience and explaining the story. What I absolutely hated about how they presented was that they spoiled the ending before the show even began. I mean, the audience came to watch the show itself and we’ll all learn the ending with the show. Spoiling it to us sort of ruined the fun even though a lot of people in the audience had already heard about the story.
Nevertheless, when the show started, I was excited anyway. The story started with a king calling all princes near and far to sweep his daughter Shinta off her feet and marry her.
(THERE WILL BE SPOILERS OF THE STORY AHEAD! If you’re planning to watch to show and don’t want spoilers, feel free to skip to the the marked line.)
This one prince named Rama arrived late, but he ended up wowing Shinta and thus, he was the one to end up marrying her. This triggered Rahwana, ruler of Alengka who actually had a thing for Shinta to be really jealous and so, he hatched a plan to kidnap Shinta and take her to his kingdom.
If this were set in the modern era, this would be an episode of Criminal Minds.
One day, Rama, his right hand man Laksmana, and Shinta were in the woods when they saw this deer which was actually Rahwana’s henchmen in disguise. Shinta asked Rama to catch it for her. Rahwana took this chance to kidnap Shinta. The deer finally revealed its true form and Rama finally realized what was going on so he fought the henchman.
Rama actually used hand-to-hand combat here when he had a bow and arrow. I was so frustrated for him during this scene and internally screaming “USE YOUR BOW, DAMMIT! SHOOT HIM!” the entire time.
The scene then transitioned to that of Jatayu – the couple’s magical bird friend – witnessing Rahwana running off with Shinta. Jatayu fought to free his friend, but he was eventually injured really badly by Rahwana. It was during this scene that I really grew a dislike for Shinta’s character. Her friend was literally over there fighting to help her and instead of helping him or something, she just stood there with a great distressed expression.
Rama and Laksmana eventually found the dying Jatayu too and before he died, he revealed what he saw to them. They discovered that Rahwana was taking Shinta to his home and en route there, they met Hanuman and Sugriwa who asked them to help free the love of Sugriwa’s life, Dewi Tara from a guy who took her.
So yeah, now Rama and Laksmana had to rescue two damsels in distress. But this rescue turned out to be a good thing because Hanuman then got himself and his monkey squad to join in on Shinta’s rescue mission.
Meanwhile in Alengka, Shinta wasn’t exactly kept captive and isolated. She had Trijata, Rahwana’s niece as her girl pal – a very good one that is. When Rahwana wanted to marry Shinta, Shinta turned him away which infuriated Rahwana and made him want to kill her. But Trijata persuaded him against it, saving Shinta.
See Shinta, that’s how you defend a friend.
Hanuman then arrived in Alengka and told Shinta that her man was coming for her. Hanuman was eventually captured by Rahwana’s henchmen and was supposed to be burned alive. However, he turned the whole thing around and burned Rahwana’s entire kingdom instead.
And in case you’re wondering, these are the effects that can’t be performed indoor because it’s an absolute fire hazard.
The monkey squad then arrived in Alengka by building a bridge there and an all-out war broke out. Kumbakarna, in spite of his disagreements with Rahwana over whether to kill Hanuman, still fought for that brother of his and was eventually shot to death by Rama. Because his heart was actually good, his spirit was picked up by angels into heaven.
Then came the big showdown between Rama and Rahwana which ended in Rahwana’s death. Shinta was freed, but Rama was doubting whether the woman he went through a lot to rescue was actually a virgin anymore. He asked her to prove her purity by setting herself on fire which she did and thus, gaining Rama’s trust.
Rama was so insecure here that I actually began to dislike him even though I was rooting for him the entire time.
The story ended with their (finally) happy reunion and the happily ever after for all protagonists.
(THIS IS THE END OF THE STORY!)
Throughout the Ramayana Ballet, I was marveling the brilliant production and amount of work put into telling this intricate love story. The performance managed to tell the entire story without any of its casts uttering a single word. The only way to learn the character’s names and what was going on in the scene was through the slides at either sides of the stairs displaying a one-sentence summary of what was going on. The complexities of each character were revealed through their gestures, expression and complex choreography which I think was incredible to do. If you actually pay attention to the performance and everything going on in it, you’ll love and hate every character in this play without them needing to say anything.
I have to give my props to the lighting crew and gamelan players as well because the lighting and music worked well with every single scene. There was not a moment in which the scene felt off because these things ruined it. The mood was set perfectly. The special effects crew also did a brilliant job, especially during Hanuman’s fiery scene. My jaw dropped because they actually set logs on fire onstage for the sake of effects. The cast and crew also used every inch of the stage and additional platforms closer to the audience throughout the performance.
If you prefer to watch comical stage productions which involve the audience with humor, this show will probably leave you bored or sleepy. It takes 2 hours to tell such a complicated story and the mood is dramatic the entire time. At the 1.5-hour mark, there was a break for refreshments and there were definitely a lot of people reaching for coffee at that time and some yawns here and there. But if you love onstage drama, Ramayana Ballet is definitely for you.
After the show, the audience were invited onstage to take pics with the cast and it was then that I got to see the actual detail put in the makeup and costumes for the cast. One thing that surprised me the most was how much eyeliner was put on the guy who played Rama and how his eyebrows were really – well – on fleek.
Overall, I was so glad I didn’t miss the performance for the third time because it was truly one of the most brilliant stage performances I’ve ever seen which manages to tell a story without a single line said by the cast. The cast and crew did a brilliant job and if you love theatrical performances, do spend your money on this one in Yogyakarta.