Robin Gilbert and Carlos Fittante in "Tigerlily and the Dragonfly". Photo: Julie Lemberger

Do Challenges Help Create Magic Onstage?

By Robin Gilbert, Shelley Lynne Cummins, Carlos Fittante

On a showery Sunday afternoon on May 3rd, BALAM offered a new rendition of its story ballet, "Ramayana Abduction of Sita" in the 30th annual Asian/Pacific American Heritage Festival at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York.With the rain gods in full force that day and the temperature hovering around 50 degrees, it was unpleasantly wet and cold.

The Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, named after the Nobel Peace Laureate, sits adjacent to the United Nations framing it like a modern-day temple. We the dancers and Islene Pinder, BALAM’s founding director, were all truly inspired by the venue, while the weather conditions conjured fond memories from past tours of monsoon downpours in the outdoor temples in Bali.

Imagine all the performing artists--(traditional Indian and Bollywood dancers, Japanese Kodo drummers, Chinese acrobats, rockers, singers and musicians and us)--dressing in a 10 x 10 foot tent. There was no place to put our things or to move around.

For hours we stood corralled in the tent that had inch deep puddles on the ground in our tightly bound Balinese costumes and headpieces. We were cold, wet, and unable to get comfortable. Also inside the tent was Ray, a beautiful 10-month-old baby boy, who along with his drummer mom stared at us curiously. Thank goodness for this "Ray" of sunshine in the tent! He made us smile and laugh, which help ground us before we performed.

In Bali the arts are believed to be offerings to the gods, who communicate through the performance. The Balinese also believe the gods will play tricks on you to test your composure and devotion. Without discussing it, we all seemed to recognize these challenging conditions: the cold, wet weather, the crowded uncomfortable dressing area, as BALAM’s test from the Balinese gods.

The performance that flowed through us was a powerful expression coming from our hearts and souls. We were five performers, who became one, and the connection was palpable. We also knew the audience, soggy underneath their umbrellas, felt it too. The challenging circumstances that surrounded us didn’t seem to matter in the least!

These questions stayed with us after our performance.
• Did we, as a team, become more sensitive to each other because of the challenging conditions?
• Would we have transcended ourselves the way we did, if we started to complain about the difficult conditions?
• Was the grace and ease we felt on stage due to our collective good humor and good will?

Whatever the answers may be, we all felt truly grateful for the special performance we were able to create and for that beautiful rainy day!

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