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Another Grateful Dead spin off, this was the Mardi Gras show this year at the Fillmore, and featured a parade. The Javanese shadow puppets depict Princess Sita and her beloved Prince Rama, lord of the land. Their story is told in the Ramayana, a complex and dramatic mythology told on the island of Bali through dance and the incomparable gamelan music. As best I remember it, Rama and Sita are taking a leisurely picnic with his best friend and captain of his armies, when a Golden Deer leaps past. Sita claps her hands and begs Rama to get the deer for her. In love with the beautiful Sita, he sets out to do her bidding, but leaves his friend to guard her.

Unbeknownst to Rama, the deer has been sent by an evil Demon King to lure Rama away from Sita, whom the Demon King covets. The Demon King, hiding, mimics Rama's cry for help, which Sita hears. She tells the captain that he must go to aid Rama, but of course the captain has sworn to his master to protect Sita, and he is torn, but cannot break his oath. So Sita tells him that if he does not go to help her beloved, she will tell Rama that the captain raped her when he does return. The captain goes at once. And of course as soon as he disappears, the Demon King steals Sita and takes her away with him.

The Demon King sets a dragon to encircle the tower in which she is kept--guard her, (which in the Kacak Dance is portrayed by 60-100 men dressed in checkerboard sarongs and red sashes coiled around where Sita sits next to a many-branched floor candelabra.)

Into this dramatic setting comes Rama, who cannot alone rescue his princess. He appeals to Hannomaun, the Monkey King, who comes with his Monkey armies to battle the dragon. He is victorious, and Sita is returned to Rama.

Here is the kicker though: Sita swears that she remained faithful to Rama. The Demon King did not touch her. Rama believes her. The gods and goddesses believe her. But the faithless people whom they govern doubt her. And so the heavens decide it is best for Rama's ability to rule if they take Sita and keep her with the gods and goddesses. And so she is burned on a pyre.

I wonder how Disney would tell it. God, I hope they never do.

My friend Robert, whom I met in Bali, has a theatre company in HelLA called Fabulous Monsters. They do a version of the Ramayana which rivals the Cirque du Soleil for its imagination and beauty. If it comes to San Francisco, I hope you will go see it.