Anyone who has taken a philosophy class or practices a religion has probably wondered why humans exist, if it is not to live, reproduce and die. It almost goes without saying that many cocky college students will ask the same thing 20 years from now when they are working the nine to five, listening to their two whiny kids and paying taxes. The performing group Nadanta”s production of “Shiksha: Teachings of the Buddah” does not claim to answer the eternal question, but it does it give food for thought.
Nadanta, created in 1980, is a small artistic organization whose mission is to promote and preserve culture from India. They achieve this goal through interpretative dance and drama.
“Shiksha” begins with a classical style of dance from southern India, “Bharat Natyam,” which is one of the seven classic dance styles dating back 2500 years. Chaula Thacker, creator and choreographer of the production, said, “there are also folk, creative and modern dances appropriate to the action and the story line.”
Thacker says that the focus of the drama is more philosophical than religious. “The story represents Buddha as a teacher, not as a religious leader,” she said. “Our idea is not to give them the same story that they have heard, but instead, to give them a different style. We have incorporated the entertainment element as well as the philosophical one.”
Creating a large-scale dance production is no easy task. Each production must be developed years in advance, and each year Nadanta must submit a finished project for the Michigan Council of the Arts. Although the organization is concentrated primarily in the Midwest, specifically Michigan, other productions have traveled as far as the Soviet Union, Western Europe and Scandinavia.
Despite usual commitments such as school, and not so common commitments like marriage and children, the 65-member cast manages to practice in two to three hour stretches and often without stopping. “Cast members need to be able to change costumes in 15 seconds in a few instances,” Thacker said. “And many of the costumes and jewelry are very elaborate.”
The cast members range in age from as young as five to as old as fifty, but most are young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 years. Dancers were chosen mainly for the dancing ability, but also for their versatility. For example, Raja Jaikumar was chosen for his ability to play a young Buddha as well as an older, more reserved Buddha.
In lieu of the tragedy of September 11, Nadanta has decided to donate the proceeds of the Sunday”s performance of “Shiksha” to the American Red Cross. Thacker believes that he audience “will be thrilled to see this it being such a different concept. It is so helpful to have a perspective from philosophy.”
Thacker believes that doing this production is a dream come true, and she eagerly anticipates the next production which is “The Six Seasons of India: Colors of the Rainbow.”