Programmes that bring forth diverse tales and traditions of the world are a great learning and entertainment medium. Not only do the performers and audience get to discover and experience cultural and historical aspects of different lands but they also learn about ageless and ancient customs and
beliefs of the world and its people.
While Diaspora run dance and music schools that largely cater to second and third generation South Asian children and youth abound in areas with a substantial immigrant population in US and elsewhere, yet, adaption of the rich and diverse cultural and historical tales and performing arts heritage of India by mainstream cultural organizations have been few and far between.
One such presentation that proves Mark Twain's adage of east is east and west is west and the twain shall never meet, untrue is the showcase of the play Siddhartha, the Bright Path, by The Marsh Youth Theatre of San Francisco.
The group has 19 shows scheduled from December 14 through January 6 and anyone keen on learning about the life and times of Lord Buddha and the importance of his teachings in the current age should check out this musical performance by 24 young artists ranging from 10 through 16 at the Marsh Theatre.
The story recounts Prince Siddhartha's sojourn from an indulged prince purposefully sheltered from everyday experiences of life due to a prophecy, to one of the greatest spiritual seekers of all times narrated in parallel with that of Chandra, a modern-day San Francisco girl.
Surrounded by a multitude of friends and goodies, the trigger of the sight of poor and homeless, makes Chandra contemplative like Prince Siddhartha (one who shall fulfill his destiny) about the value of material things and the reasons for human suffering.
Some loaded teachings like no one escapes the ravages of time and one who gives life has a greater right on it than one who takes life are beautifully depicted in the scenes of Prince Siddhartha's play with his cousin and later his maiden visit to the city where he witnesses a diseased woman, an old man and a dead body.
In the end the two protagonists are shown meeting under the famous Bodhi tree, on the banks of the Ganges River, where Buddha helps Chandra find her own brand of enlightenment. The eightfold path of illumination comprising of adherence to right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration seems to run as true today as 2000 years back.
The show is flavored with Indian music, art, some rudimentary kathak dance steps and even the popular Chaiya Chaiya Bollywood dance number that brings the house down with its verve and vitality. Shahrukh Khan and Malaika Arora would be proud.
Emily Klion, the production director uses her experiences of Indian music and an yearlong fellowship in India in the performance. "Every person has an obligation to enlighten themselves, finding a way to be more compassionate and to better the world, and Lord Buddha's story is the perfect vehicle to convey this thought to children," she says.
In 2003, the theatre group had presented a performance on Ramayana. Hopefully the next show of the Marsh theatre or another company will highlight a tale from the mammoth epic - Mahabharata.
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