The story of Buddha, a man born a prince who gives up all earthly privilege to lead a life of spiritual service, has fascinated people around the world for centuries.
The Life of Gautama Buddha, a fusion play of dance, music and language, choreographed by Santosh Nair, will be performed at Nazareth College Arts Center [New York] this weekend. The production, presented by the India Community Center of Rochester, is the first of its kind to come to a local stage and is part of the center’s outreach efforts.
Bubbles Sabharwal says the idea of staging Buddha’s life came to her and co-creator Lushin Dubey about 15 years ago. They felt a live live drama could impact millions and illustrate the profound value of art.
“Theater is meant to entertain but it can also hold up a mirror to society,” Sabharwal says. “Some plays take us on a journey into imagination and surreal worlds. This play takes us from the world outside to the world within.”
The first performance was staged in India for 300 monks at a festival there, and in the milestone city in the life of Buddha, Sanchi, in Madhya Pradesh, was performed for the president of India. The Dalai Lama was also scheduled to attend but fell ill the day of the performance.
“When we were asked to perform The Life of Gautama Buddha for former Indian president, Pratibha Patil, we were told to keep our production to one hour,” Sabharwal says. “We were warned that she would walk out, if she was bored.”
The performance went well. The present stayed for the hour and 15-minute performance and stayed afterward to talk with cast members and pose for photos.
The troupe was to perform for the first time in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, so the international tours didn’t start until later.
The message, Sabharwal believes, is relevant today.
“When a child asked Buddha if he was a teacher, he replied, ‘No.’ He asked him, ‘Are you a physician?’ The Buddha replied, ‘No.’ He persisted and asked, ‘Are you a magician?’ He said, ‘No.’ Buddha then replied with a smile, ‘I am aware.’ At each moment, we must be aware of the choices we make, of the intent with which we carry out our actions,” she says.
Response from western audiences to the touring performance has been amazing, according to its co-creators.
“Western audiences appreciate the fusion of east and west almost immediately,” they say.
Dialogue, completely in English, contrasts the ethnic dance forms, music and costuming that reflect Indian tradition.
Padmanabh Kamath, director of special events and former board chairman of India Community Center, says the organization brought this fusion performance to Rochester because it is aligned with ICC’s mission to promote study and understanding of the Indian culture and contemporary affairs.
The center arranged for The Life of Gautama Buddha to be at Nazareth because members throught it would appeal to a larger audience.
“Rochester is home to many Buddhist groups, but more important, this cultural event will appeal not only to Indian and spiritual communities, but to anyone with an interest in spirituality and cultural exchange,” Kamath says.
Lushin Dubey, the show’s director and writer, hopes the appeal spoke about her hope for people to take a lesson from the play, as well as being entertained.
“We hope this production will be received with the same spirit with which it was created — with reverence for this great icon, whose sincere, philosophical pursuits, were ahead of his time.”
De Palma is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
If you go
What:The Life of Gautama Buddha.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Where: Nazareth College Arts Center, 4245 East Ave.
Cost: $20 to $55.
For tickets: (585) 389-2170 or boxoffice.naz.edu.