Dance celebrates Buddha
ROUNDHOUSE Bharata natyam originated in India long ago, but this rare performance is a piece of Canadian choreography
u n i q u e s tyl e of d a n ce called bharata natyam that originated in India thousands of years ago is coming to The Roundhouse for four rare performances.
The performances are unusual b e c a u s e t h e wo rk b e i n g p e r - formed, The Temptation of Buddha, isn’t an ancient piece of choreography from India’s past. It’s a work created here in Canada.
Jai Govinda is both the show’s choreographer and its conceptual creator. He’s a practising Hindu who said he was drawn to the story of Buddha being tempted by Mara, the personif ication of death, from his path of reaching nirvana through meditation.
Govinda said Buddha’s story has echoes of his own religious upbringing in Quebec. He was born Benoit Villeneuve in Quebec City but found himself drawn to bharata natyam after beginning his dance career with Les Grand Ballet Canadiens.
“I think that for myself born in a staunch Roman Catholic family, a n d h av i n g p ra c t i s e d H i n - duism for the past 20 years, I find something very appealing in Buddhism — even though I don’t call myself a Buddhist,” he said.
It isn’t an accident, he said, that the title of his work recalls a simi l a r s t o r y a b o u t Je s u s C h r i s t which was portrayed on the silver screen by Martin Scorsese in his The Last Temptation of Christ.
Govinda said his version of The Temptation of Buddha isn’t about preaching about Buddhism. It’s about using a story about Buddha to create an hour-long performance of bharata natyam.
He draws a comparison between The Temptation of Buddha and traditional ballets such as Giselle or Swan Lake. There’s a story line in all of them — but still lots of opportunity for pure dance. “Bharata natyam is a movement language that can be used for anything,” he said.
Govinda said that his work is an interpretation of Buddha’s temptation based on a sanskrit text by Asvagosha called Acts of Buddha.
The story starts with the birth of Buddha. An astrologer arrives at the palace, which has been decorated to welcome the newborn child, and predicts the child will be a king — but of a much different kind, one whose realm is spiritual not temporal.
From Buddha’s birth, the dance jumps ahead in Buddha’s life to the time when he’s meditating to achieve nirvana — considered by Buddhists to be the highest state of consciousness. Mara arrives with his five arrows — each one representing one of the five senses — to sidetrack Buddha.
The earth t re m bl e s a n d the wind blows, but Buddha isn’t deterred. In desperation, Mara pulls out all the stops. He calls on his three daughters — Rati, Thirshna, and Aarati — to continue the assault. The three dancers tempt Buddha with love, then power, fame, and prestige followed by the pleasures of the senses.
Buddha remains on his path. When he reaches nirvana, he gets up and puts one foot towards the holy city of Benares and sets in motion the wheels of dharma — Dating back at least 2,000 years, bharata natyam is a dance form traditionally handed down over the centuries by male teachers called
female ritualistic dancers called performed in the temples of south India. By the early 20th century, the art form was in decline. But a revival in India’s cultural heritage led to bharata natyam moving out of the temples and on to the stage. Now it is performed by both men and women and has grown in popularity not only throughout India but around the world. More information at www.mandalarts.ca the teachings that lead to enlightenment.
The Temptation of Buddha ends with tillana, a pure dance number that celebrates Buddha’s victory over Mara and his temptations.
To help members of the audience understand what’s going on, the program explains each of the work’s 15 scenes.
Throughout the performance, Buddha isn’t represented on stage as a dancer. Instead, he’s often portrayed on one of the projected images called thangkas (pronounced tunkas). The thangkas are direct from Thangde Gatsal Studio in Dharamsala, the exiled home in India of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism. The studio is trying to preserve the art form by training a new generation of Tibetan refugees as thankga painters.
Projection concept and design is by jamie griffiths.
Original carnatic music by Vidyasagar Vankayala will be performed by a fourmember orchestra. The six dancers are Rena Boggaram, Ishwarya Chaitanya, Vidya Kotamraju, Priya Kumar, Ashika Narayan, Kiruthika Rathanaswami.
The Temptation of Buddha performed by the Mandala Arts and Culture at The Roundhouse Oct. 26 to 29.