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Indian classical dance meets Sesame Street. That’s how Ramaa Bharadvaj, the creator of “Panchatantra-Animal Fables of India” describes her production. A mixture of dance and music, storytelling and puppetry, this ensemble production is presented as a fundraiser for Ekal Vidyala.
In the fourteen years since it was first performed, Panchatantra has played to critical acclaim and appreciative audiences around the country. Bhardvaj says “When my son was little, I searched for ways to introduce my art form to him. As an immigrant mother I wanted my son to understand and appreciate Indian dance but he was bored by it. At bedtime I would read to him from the Panchatantra. I would jump and leap and make faces. He was fascinated, so I decided to bring these classic fables to life on stage for my son. After 2 years of research and work the show came to life.”
The Panchatantra is a collection of anthropomorphic stories written by Vishnu Sharma in the third century BC to teach his royal charges the basic principles of Niti Sastra or state craft. By imbuing animals with human qualities, yet allowing them to retain certain animalistic character traits, he was able to convey the complex concepts of politics, diplomacy, and life itself in a child-friendly way. A combination of prose and poetry (in Sanskrit and Pali), the animal tales are full of wit and humor presenting a problematic situation and showing how the animals cleverly solve the issue.
Ramaa Bharadvaj’s layered storytelling production, does the same by infusing the entire show with both physical and verbal humor. Says Ramaa, “I like humor, and we incorporate a lot of it in the show. After all, life’s greatest wisdom and truths are often revealed effortlessly when presented with humor.”
It was in her quest to integrate the dialogues seamlessly with the dancing, that she hit upon the idea of puppets. Enter Gary Jones and his puppets. The creator of “Yuppets” (young urban professional puppets) and of Blackstreet USA Puppet Theatre, Jones is an experienced puppeteer and performer who has been recognized for his work with children. In Panchatantra, Gary is more than a storyteller. He is an integral part of the choreography, managing his puppets, as well as dancing and talking right along with the bharatanatyam dancers of Ramaa’s Company.
An appropriate choice for a fundraiser for Ekal Vidyalaya, whose mission is to setup single teacher schools in 100,000 tribal villages in India, the production brings to life two stories about trust and friendship using humorous dialogue and lyrics in English, Tamil, and Gujarati. It is set to music specially composed for the production.
Using just a few props to set the scene, colorful costumes, dancing puppets, and zany animal antics invite the audience to step into a world of make-believe. The crocodile and the monkey, the doves and the hunter, all come to life in this riotous theater show mixing dance and drama, puppets and music.
June 28, Saturday. 5:30 p.m. dinner, 7 p.m. curtain. Heritage Forum Theater, 201 E Broadway Ave., Anaheim. $25, $35, $50. (949) 552-0907. www.ekal.org