ENTERTAINMENT VS DHARMA
Natya Dance Theatre's The Flowering Tree
I saw many classical dance performances during my 12 months in India.
But rarely did I understand what was happening onstage: the myriad complicated mudras, facial expressions and other gestures used to convey the story meant very little to my untrained western mind. (I remember my traveling companion Bob-the-dancer being flummoxed by what he called "the shit-eating grins on their faces.").
Last night I accompanied my editor and some other long-time local yoga teachers to the one-night-only performance of Natya Dance Theatre's The Flowering Tree.
Natya Dance specializes in classical Bharatnarayan dance from South India. It is sometimes considered to be a form of yoga (as in union, not asana).
The performance was framed by a narrator (Natya Dance Theatre founder Hema Rajagopalan's daughter, Krithika). So it was easy to understand the storyline - based on a Kannada folk tale. (UC Hinduism scholar Wendy Doniger served as a consultant and wrote the program notes).
The piece focused on a poor woman who has two sisters and a very difficult life. A voice instructs the sisters to use a special mantra and water to transform her into a flowering tree, whose flowers they may gather and sell so that they have enough food to eat. They transformer her into a tree against her wishes, and make a killing selling the unusually beautiful and fragrant flowers at the local temple. A young prince buys the last one and becomes enthralled with the lead sister. Long story short, he marries her and forces her to become the tree on their wedding night. His sister watches through the window, and later forces her to do the same, out of greed. She fails to revive her properly, and the lead sister is left as a crippled stump with a face - a metaphor for man's treatment of Nature or Prakriti.
It. was. amazing. The story. The choreography. The music. The costumes. The set. The performers.
(There were no "grins")
And it was a one-night-only show.
My favorite gesture, though, occurred during the curtain call, when Krithika exited and returned with a bouquet of flowers. She handed them to her mother, Hema, and then rejoined the other performers.
With incredible grace, Hema walked over and handed the flowers back to her.
Click here to learn more about Natya Dance.
And here to read my 2000 Reader article about the founder and her daughter - proof that entertainment can also be Dharma.
Read my India diaries here.
Thank you to Sharon S. and Hema R. for the tickets!
NOTE: The photos (I think) are from The Flowering Tree. The video is not.