Dance inspired by a novel on Buddha's life

Created by American siblings Mythili Prakash and Aditya Prakash, Mara - The Mastermind (above) is held at the Esplanade Theatre on March 24.
Created by American siblings Mythili Prakash and Aditya Prakash, Mara - The Mastermind is held at the Esplanade Theatre on March 24.PHOTO: MYTHILI PRAKASH

Contemporary work Mara - The Mastermind aims to explore how people can conquer the unquiet in their lives

Classically trained bharatanatyam dancers move to a jazz beat as well as Indian ragas in Mara - The Mastermind, a contemporary production helmed by American siblings Mythili Prakash and Aditya Prakash.

The work, inspired by a novel written by Deepak Chopra, shows on March 24 at the Esplanade Theatre and is brought here by events management company Arte Compass, in association with local dance troupe Apsaras Arts.

In Buddhist tradition, Mara is a figure of temptation that tries to stop the Buddha from achieving enlightenment. In Chopra's 1976 novel, Buddha: A Story Of Enlightenment, Mara appears throughout the Buddha's life to symbolise internal conflict.

Dancer Mythili, 35, says on the telephone from Los Angeles that, quite by coincidence, she and her musician brother Aditya read the book at the same time and came to the same conclusion: Mara was the unquiet mind, which can be a person's greatest enemy.

Using that as a starting point, they developed a contemporary performance following a made-up character, Jeeva, and her interactions with Mara through the course of her life.

As "jeeva" in Sanskrit means "living entity", the performance is a universal story about trying to tame the mind and is something the creators hope the audience can relate to on a personal level.

  • BOOK IT / MARA - THE MASTERMIND

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: March 24, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $36 to $76 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Traditional bharatanatyam performances often follow narratives from Hindu mythology. Audience attention often shifts from the symbolism indicating a greater narrative to the details of the myth, Mythili says. "Even now, some people are asking why we're doing a show about Mara, since Mara is a negative character. But this is a completely made-up story."

Mara is played by four dancers, including Mythili, who also dances the part of Jeeva. To illustrate the struggle within the self, she as Jeeva performs against herself as Mara through the magic of multimedia developed by American artist Kate Johnson.

Music is provided by the Aditya Prakash Ensemble, a fusion group that includes Julian Le on piano, Owen Clapp on bass, Sumesh Narayanan on percussion, Brijesh Pandya on drums, Easwar Ramakrishnan on violin and Mahesh Swamy on flute and vocals.

The ensemble started with a bunch of students jamming together years ago, when Aditya, now 29, was doing his ethnomusicology degree at UCLA.

The siblings trained in India and the United States. Their mother is dancer Viji Prakash, who helms a dance school and troupe with her husband.

The siblings have independent careers, but perform together on stage around the world, including several shows in Singapore since 2010.

Mara is the first "equal partnership", where both are equally involved in script, music and choreography, says Mythili. "Yes, we fight all the time," she adds, laughing.

Aditya says some fights come because the siblings might take each other's time for granted and be loose on deadlines.

But sharing the same language and a similar love of the arts means that artistic conversations happen on a deeper level. "We push each other to go further, like with Mara," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2018, with the headline 'A quest to tame the mind'. Print Edition | Subscribe