On Saturday, October 8, Natya Dance Theatre will mark its debut at Harris Theater by presenting the world premiere of The Flowering Tree. This one night only performance, which is Natya’s most ambitious project to date, will showcase its original adaptation of an ancient South Indian folktale.
Natya Dance Theatre is Chicago’s critically acclaimed dance company rooted in the Bharata Natya technique, a dance theater form of India. Different from the Indian ritual or ceremonial dance, Natya’s dance theater seamlessly melds dynamic body movement, rhythmic footwork, hand gestures, and facial expressions with original choreography to beautifully convey meaning, emotion, and a sense of spirituality.
This performance of The Flowering Tree will include a storyteller (sutra dhara) who interacts with the dancers as she speaks in different voices to represent various characters. All dialogue will be in English. The use of a storyteller makes this dance performance especially family friendly as the narration will make it easier for younger children to follow the storyline and interpret the dancers’ movements and expressions.
Based on an ancient South Indian folktale by A. K. Ramanujan, The Flowering Tree is about a poor but beautiful young girl, Kumudha, whose family is ostracized by the community because of its poverty. To alleviate her suffering, Kumudha is given a mantra from the heavens that allows her to turn into a beautiful flowering tree, whose rare flowers become a valuable commodity for Kumudha and her sisters. This gift, however, can only be received through patience, because the flowers cannot be collected until they fall from the tree. To regain human form, Kumudha must recite the mantra with reverence and respect. Soon, Kumudha is married to a prince enthralled with her beauty, but before long, her powerful gift is discovered and taken advantage of. Through time, though, the characters are transformed by love and find genuine, meaningful connection.
In an interview with Hema Rajagopalan, Founder and Artistic Director of Natya Dance Theatre, she explained that the message of The Flowering Tree is the importance of respecting nature; of understanding that the tree and the individual have the same kind of life going through them and that by destroying nature, we harm ourselves and bring the destruction that we reap on nature into our own lives.
Ultimately, as a metaphor for preserving nature and respecting others, The Flowering Tree is a timeless tale about love and transformation.
Twenty dancers (all graduates of Natya Dance Theatre Company and trained by Hema Rajagopalan) will perform to an original musical score, commissioned for this world premiere and written by the Indian composer and musician Rajkumar Bharathi. The score was recorded by 25 musicians from around the world, fusing Indian music with jazz and Japanese and African drumming.
Mrs. Rajagopalan explained that music is an integral part of this performance, because “together, the music and the movement vocabulary bring the story alive.”
This production is choreographed by Hema Rajagopalan, who founded the Natya Dance Theatre in 1974, and her daughter, Krithika Rajagopalan, Natya’s Associate Artistic Director, who studied dance under her mother and the same gurus in India with whom her mother had studied.
Natya Dance Theatre’s world premiere of The Flowering Tree will take place on Saturday, October 8, at 7:30pm, at Harris Theater in Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph Drive.
Tickets for The Flowering Tree range from $24 to $50 and are available by calling the Harris Theater Box Office at 312-334-7777 or online at www.harristheaterchicago.org.
If you want to learn more about Natya Dance Theatre and its programs, you can visit Natya’s website.
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