An Encounter with the Exotic at the York Theatre In Vancouver

Sunil Kumar Thankachan (note scary sun glasses), Shivani Thakkar, Leah Vincent, Aparna Sindhoor, Anil Natyaveda, Pratheesh Sivanandan, Mathew Valdez & Edward Carrion. October 18, 2017, York Theatre, Vancouver

Today I went to the Vancouver East Cultural Centre’s York Theatre in Vancouver for a production, Encounter, presented by them and by Diwali In BC which featured the Sindhoor/Natyaveda –Navarasa Dance Theatre (India/USA).

I had no idea what to expect and the only word that would come to mind was that I was going to witness something exotic. I was not wrong. But at the same time I found that I found parallels with my own experiences in Argentina including living under a military dictatorship in which life was cheap.

exótico, ca

Del lat. exotĭcus, y este del gr. ἐξωτικός exōtikós, der. de ἔξω éxō ‘afuera’.

1. adj. Extranjero o procedente de un país o lugar lejanos y percibidos como muy distintos del propio.

My Real Academia Dictionary of the Spanish (I am an Argentine by birth ) defines exotic as something coming from another country of faraway place and seen as different from one’s own.

Because I am 75 I am a person born and raised in another century. In that mid 20thcentury Mexicans lived in Mexico (and slept with big hats under a cactus) Germans lived in Germany and wore short leather pants, Americans were either cowboys or wore funny uniforms to play a game they called football.

Of India, China, Japan and la Cochinchina (the old word for Vietnam and still used in Argentina as a place as far away as can be) I knew nothing. I had in 1950 never seen anybody from the East with the exception of Filipinos as my mother was born there.

One day, in that year of 1950 my father brought four of his friends from his job. He worked (besides being a journalist for the Buenos Aires Herald) as a translator at the brand new Indian Embassy. His four friends, all with beards and wearing turbans got out of a Hillman Minx, a car as strange as anybody from India, China or Japan. I had never seen a Hindu although my father corrected me (and confused me even further) that they were Sikhs.

My father was a very good cook so he treated his four friends to curry. I spent a whole week attempting to explain to my friends who the visitors had been.

I believe that sometime in that mid-century Hindoos became Hindus.

Around the year 2000 I figured (!) that nostalgia is something we feel only when we are not in the country we have that nostalgia for. By that dictionary definition above it would seem that the exotic is something from a country one has not been to.

In spite of living in a multi-cultural Vancouver, Encounter was indeed exotic and unpredictable. I did not know what was going to happen next in this theatrical play with dance and song, in which the most important persons (and not on stage) were Beth Kelley and Sonia Bologa who are listed in the program as Costume support.

In Vancouver we traditionally call them fast dressers. This troupe of seven, Aparna Sindhoor, Anil Natyaveda, Prateesh Silvandan, Leah Vincent, Sunil Kumar Thankachan, Rinu Janardhanan, and Matt Valdez on stage was constantly changing from the costumes of scary soldiers to the more traditional ones. That they were able to do this so quickly and seamlessly attests to the efficiency of the fast dressers.

Aparna Sindhoor & Anil Natyaveda

The choreography and direction of performers Aparna Sindhoor and Anil Natyaveda included stuff I have never seen before but I did note a wee bit of hip-hop and yoga. A number featuring the soldiers and that scary Major General played by the usually pleasant and happy Sunil Kumar Thankachan, all carrying what looked like heavy replica rifles, was outstanding.

The reason for the soldiers is that encounter in Indian (South Asian) has a different meaning. It is about a planned (seemed to look like a chance) encounter between the military and those that they want to get rid of (arrest and summarily kill) so as to take away their land and livelihood so that large companies can then exploit those resources. Because this, unfortunately, may sound familiar to many, Encounter is dedicated to all indigenous people around the world who suffer that fate.

The show is really that of the two principals Aparna Sindhoor and the remarkably agile dancer and choreographer Anil Natyaveda. The play was written by S M Raju and Aparna Sindhoor and based on a short story by Mahasweta Devi.

A lot of the action happens on and around a tall pole on stage left that was described by Aparna Sindhoor as the centre of all activities (including spiritual ones) of the village featured in Encounter.

At one point Anil Natyaveda starts on the top of that pole. Only someone of my age (75) will remember those Ripley’s Believe It or Not rectangles in newspaper comics of the past century. There were quite a few (besides those of sleeping on beds of nails) that featured Yogis who if we were to believe it had never come down from that pole!

And so a play that was full of exotic wonder, action and violence which included an extraordinarily choreographed rape seen by four black hooded men with Aparna Sindhoor being the victim, was enough to dampen the evening with thought and a purpose to action. Not all plays have to have a happy ending. This one has a wallop of an ending. Some of us were too shocked to clap.

Encounter is on at 8PM until and including Sunday.

Link to: An Encounter with the Exotic at the York Theatre

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