Samye Dance and Theater Company
During late 1950’s, 60’s and the 70’s I worked with avant garde political theater, sacred drama performances. I was inspired by Grotovsky, Stanislavsky, Marcel Marceau, theater groups that toured the world such as La Mama Theater, The Living Theater, Bread and Puppet and of course Peter Brooks inspiring performances. I had the great fortune to work with a wide diversity of skilled artisans, composers and directors.
While visiting His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa’s Monastery in Sikkim in the early seventies and seeing His operas, I became inspired to create Dharma theater in the West. Expressing these visions to His Eminence Situ Rinpoche, I was advised to go forward in this quest, to discover talented actors, dancers and writers and draw from the magnificent storehouse containing ‘Life Stories of Masters’.
I envisioned the first play to portray the life and quest of Padmasambhava, a great mystic who was invited to Tibet by King Trison Detsen, to inspire Vajrayana, the Buddhist Diamond Path amongst his people. I wished to portray the sage both in historical and current perspectives thus evoking his enlightened benevolence at this time when the world is threatened by many wars. In addition, my aim was to demonstrate how the great mystic in his quest to enlighten all realms can transform negative energies into auspicious qualities through non attachment and devotion. This would be acted out in a scene where Padmasambhava challenges the Raksha King who is the energy of stagnant self cherishing, the rudra of ego. They debate and Padmasambhava display the mystical dance of the great Herukas, Protectors of Dharma. The Raksha King and his realm realizes the futility of attachment and are instantly transformed into the matrix of Enlightened Benevolence. They become one with the activity of the Herukas. Bridging a wide array of diverse spiritual traditions such as Native American, African, Indian and Tibetan; dancers, actors and musicians would honor PadmasambhavaÌs victorious quest.
One of the main characters would be a Chinese Taoist priest whose support of Padmasambhava signified the long sought-for peace between Tibet and China. The accomplished yogini Yeshe Tsogyal, the consort of Padmasambhava would be seated in a solitary cave performing ChodÓ practice, evoking equanimity aspired for by women of today. Mandarava, an Indian princess would represent motherly love and compassion that goes beyond the craving of the Self. A Naga queen with attendants who guard sacred treasures offers them to Padmasambhava.
Also a mighty war lord, comprehending the master’s teachings on impermanence, seeing the dance of the ‘Chitta Mani’ was transformed through Padmasambhava’s blessings into the legendary Tibetan King Gesar of Ling, a Bodhisattva hero. He promises to carry out the commands of Padmasambhava, to be a guiding Dharma protector for all beings. At the finale there would be dedication songs in homage to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Finally after over twenty years of preparations, study and contemplation friends and sponsors were gathered to put together a showcase at California’s Marin Civic Auditorium, performing ‘The Life of Padmasambhava’ in the spring of 2000. Large murals depicting the sacred Himalayas and visions of space, elaborate crowns and painted costumes were specially designed to represent Nature’s elements. Performing in the play and casting many of the performers, I experienced this endevour as a great learning experience. This enactment was a momentous endeavor and learning experience. I am hoping that through this model showcase, every one that worked with the play learns how to purify and simplify a performance so that the essence of Dharma Theater will be understood and embraced by the audience. This is what I will aspire to in future performances by theater companies such as ‘Samye Dance and Theater Company’.