Dance of peace

Search for serenity Kanak Rele and (below) scenes from the dance production

Search for serenity Kanak Rele and (below) scenes from the dance production  

INTERVIEW Kanak Rele tells ANJANA RAJAN about her latest dance production on the Buddha, to be performed in New Delhi this Monday

O rganisations in different parts of the world have been observing the 2600th anniversary of the enlightenment of the Buddha. But for a personality who had such a profound influence on his society and society for centuries to come, it would seem a formal anniversary is hardly necessary. As regions across the globe erupt in violence, the trauma that accompanies it comes increasingly into individual homes. Ordinary folks seek a way out of this trap by exploring alternative approaches to problem solving. It is at times like this that concepts like non-violence and compassion come to mind and the doctrine of the Buddha becomes all the more relevant. Thoughts like these prompted eminent classical dance exponent and researcher Kanak Rele to create a dance production on the Buddha. “The Enlightened One — Gautama Buddha” will be presented at New Delhi's Kamani auditorium this Monday evening at 6.45 p.m.

“This production was premiered in Mumbai,” says the veteran dancer, founder-director of the well-known Nalanda Dance Research Centre. “It got tremendous response. We actually had a stampede when people wanted to get in. After that we have had four-five shows.”

Known for her research and revival of Mohiniattam and other classical traditions and for her leadership in dance pedagogy, the former dean of Mumbai University's Faculty of Fine Arts says she returned to dance drama production after a gap of about six-seven years during which time she has been busy with other research, primarily with scholar Kavalam Narayana Panikar.

On the one hand her admirers were hoping for a new group production from the choreographer and guru who has produced a number of dance dramas including “Svapnavasavadattam” based on the Sanskrit play by Bhasa, “Kanchan Mrig” and “Rukmini Svayamvara” to name just three. On the other, she was distressed by increasing violence in society, particularly the horrors of 26/11 in Mumbai where she is based. “I was very disturbed when I saw the mayhem going on,” she says.

The antidote

The violence made no sense — “God knows for what!” — and she began to wonder about its antidote. “I started mulling in my mind, where does a human being go to (attain) Buddhahood?” She began to read up on the life of Prince Siddhartha. When Siddhartha became enlightened, he found the way to overcome violence. “You have to let the emotions come out and then vanquish them. That is the significance of Mara,” she explains, referring to the stories about how the meditating prince, on the brink of ultimate realisation, was assailed by forces inimical to his goal, such as Mara and his daughters who tried to tempt him from the path. The production attempts to bring out the timeless value of mercy, compassion, love and non-violence, she says.

“I've taken only those incidents which affected his life,” she clarifies, saying she is not “a scholar of that height” to take up Buddhist doctrines that come in for theological debate. “I don't know Pali. I've taken those facets of his life that are accepted universally.”

The rigours and ethics of research are familiar to her. She laments that “nowadays people are not going into serious production of dance dramas.” Often a theme is picked up at random and decorated with little thought to relevance or authenticity. Or institutions present excerpts from various stories. “It doesn't go to that level where a full-fledged story is researched and presented,” she remarks.

What also bothers her is that production values remain less than professional. “If it is to go to the international level,” she cites an example, referring to the shortcuts taken by many dance schools where girl students outnumber the boys, “a man's role has to be done by a man.”

Light on enlightenment

“The Enlightened One — Gautam Buddha” will see about 25 people on stage. The choreographer will not be on stage this time. “There is no role for an elderly woman,” she says. Noted Bharatanatyam dancer Deepak Mazumdar — also one of her senior disciples — plays the role of the Buddha. While the troupe includes the light designer, the soundtrack is recorded. “There are no songs in it. I have used only aakar.”The dance choreography includes Kalaripayattu and Thang Tha, besides Mohiniattam.

Kamani auditorium, November 28, 6.45 p.m.

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