A Simple Ten-Page Tale from India

Until this year I’ve got away with watching the final presentation at the Children’s Theatre School in Shiroka Luka without understanding anything at all. Elena Panayotova’s narration in Bulgarian has whizzed through my brain without depositing a single iota of information, and I’ve been able to enjoy the costumes, dancing, puppetry and other forms of theatrical wizardry, undisturbed by knowledge.

Not so this year. On our arrival in Shiroka Luka, we foreigners were handed a ten-page story, in excellent English, and encouraged, indeed commanded, to absorb the plot before Saturday’s performance.

In summary:

Young, rich, eligible bachelor king Nal is unexcited by the local girls.

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But, so famous is he, that a distant princess, Damayanti, falls in love with the idea of him before she’s even seen him.

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In due course Nal hears about Damayanti from his soldiers (apparently whilst dancing), and he falls in love with her, again, sight unseen.

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Pining by the shore of a lake in the palace garden, sometime later,  Nal sees seven beautiful swans and can’t resist grabbing one.

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The swan begs to be freed. In return she will fly to Damayanti and tell her of Nal’s love. Which she does.

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Then, Damayanti’s father, the king, noting her new-found happiness, decides it’s time she got married. He invites all known nobles to present themselves, assuming that the man Damayanti loves will be one of them.

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Indeed, Nal sets off to make his case, but along the way he meets four Gods (Indra, Varuna, Agni and Yama) who are also bent on winning Damayanti’s hand. They demand that Nal should be their messenger and that Damayanti should choose one of them.

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Reluctantly he does as they command, and rapturous as Nal and Dmayanti are at meeting each other, he explains that she must marry one of the Gods. Damayanti refuses and promises that when the Gods present themselves she will choose Nal.

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And that’s all I’ve got time for today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

India – The Children’s Theatre School

It’s the last day of the Children’s Theatre School in Shiroka Luka in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria, after three weeks of workshops in masks, drama, photography, music, mime, dance, martial arts and yoga, and the children are getting ready for this afternoon’s final performance. This year’s theme is India.

The costumes are the best ever, a colourful, though sometimes fragile confection of silks, linens and acetates gathered from India, Oman and London’s Brick Lane. There will be a story, of course, told in Bulgarian, concerning the doings of a large handful of Indian Gods, Princes, Princesses and Devils (the latter role easy to cast from the 90 children who’ve come from schools and children’s homes around the country). Cultural accuracy isn’t our highest goal, but we do our best, and this year we have two dancers from Aurangebad in India to guide us.

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If you’re not here already, it’s probably too late, but in any case the village is full of colleagues, children, teachers, social workers, politicians, artists, musicians, journalists, spectators, and tourists. Talking to some of them last night, I was reassured, as I am every year, that what Elena Panayotova and her artists do through three weeks of hard and difficult work, and through their final presentation, makes a difference to the lives of the children who participate. Many of them come from the more disadvantaged sectors of Bulgarian society (a large number of them are Roma), and through the Theatre School they acquire confidence, openness and reassurance that they matter. If some go back to their classrooms believing that if they work hard they can achieve something for themselves and their families then it is all worthwhile.

But above all it is enormous fun, and for me, immensely rewarding simply to see how much the children enjoy themselves.

 

India in the Rhodopes

It’s nearly that time of year when my thoughts turn to the Theatre School for Children at Risk that we (LLP Group) sponsor every year in Shiroka Luka, a village in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria.  This year the theme is India. It’s a big theme, and a big country, but my friend Elena Panayotova, director of the event, and her artist friends have long since acquired the knack of boiling down a culture shared by hundreds of millions to a few bare essentials – a spot of yoga, a few fairy tales and a big Bollywood ending (see Bollywood).

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So I spent Monday afternoon with one of my closest friends, Peter, foraging for Indian knick-knacks, materials and clothes in Whitechapel, in the East End of London. ‘How many boys and girls outfits can we get for three hundred pounds?’ I ask, and we usually manage to buy as many as we can carry and at a generous discount too. The more difficult problem is ferrying them to Bulgaria.

The Theatre School runs from the 4th until the 23rd July in the village of Shiroka Luka and the town of Smolyan, both close to the Greek border, about fifty miles south of Plovdiv (does that help you to visualise its location?). Children from the village orphanage (built in the 1970s when the Communist government was eager to place such institutions out of sight and out of mind in remote mountain villages) and from other orphanages in the region come together for classes in yoga, mime, dance, music and theatre. Many of the children come from the Roma community and our aim is to help all of them gain in confidence , discipline and self-expression. Above all, though, it’s enormous fun.

If you’re anywhere near Bulgaria at the end of July then pay us a visit. Let me know and I’ll give you more useful directions.

And if you’d like to contribute in any way to the fun or funds, then let me know.