Gandhi, A Biography in Dance
The Abhinaya Dance Company in San Jose was founded more than 30 years ago as a formal dance school for young Indian-American students interested in classical South Indian dance. It has become a remarkable portal through which to experience Indian culture and values, but never more so than in this most recent production of Gandhi. The company’s artistic director, Mythili Kumar, conceived the original production, done in 1995.
“I wanted to do it again for two reasons,” she told us recently. “One was because three generations of our dancers had never seen it and did not really know the story; the other reason was to encourage our students with the idea that you can tackle any topic in dance.”
Kumar, who plays the title of Gandhi in this new production, and also directs the show, added that the message of nonviolence and working against intolerance is not only meant for children but for the Indian-American community in general, which, as she put it, “sometimes propagates the same prejudices and attitudes here as they do in India. This is a reminder to the community that we must all recognize the values of Gandhi’s teachings.”
The two-hour performance is narrated by Gandhi’s niece, Manubhen, played by Kumar’s older daughter Raskika. The story focuses on key moments in Gandhi’s life but also catches nuances, perhaps better known to Indians. For example, as a young man Gandhi was not the fearless figure he became, and while living in South Africa as a teenager succumbed to many of the temptations that he would later help his followers to avoid.
The better known parts of Gandhi’s life are included, some abstractly. His encouragement to resist British rule, both political and economic. His famous Salt march to Dandi; his struggle against the caste system; his efforts to stop the fighting between Muslims and Hindus; and finally his assassination.
“We want to emphasize nonviolence and tolerance,” said Kumar, “and offer a moral lesson through dance.” And classical Indian music. She notes that the experience is best for children above the age of 8.
Gandhi, Mexican Heritage Plaza Theater, San Jose, Nov. 17, 8 p.m.; Nov. 18, 4 p.m.; tickets in advance: $22-$37, at the door: $25-40, (408) 871-595.
Event details here.
Included in: Kids Around the Bay
Mark MacNamara is a journalist who has written for such publications as Salon.com, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, The Stanford Social Innovation Review and The International Herald Tribune. His website is: macnamband.com.