Dance cel­e­brates Bud­dha

ROUND­HOUSE Bharata natyam orig­i­nated in In­dia long ago, but this rare per­for­mance is a piece of Cana­dian chore­og­ra­phy

Vancouver Sun - - Stage Westcoast Life - BY KEVIN GRIF­FIN

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.

kev­in­grif­fin@png.canwest.com

The Temp­ta­tion of Bud­dha per­formed by the Man­dala Arts and Cul­ture at The Round­house Oct. 26 to 29.

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