Who can resist the epic story of an exiled prince on a quest to rescue his beloved wife, who has been abducted by demons?
If that storyline conjures images of a new cinematic blockbuster laden with computer-generated special effects, think again.
“Son of the Wind,” a new full-length dance piece based on the fourth-century Sanskrit classic “The Ramayan” from ancient India, makes its world premiere April 8 at the Green Music Center.
But don’t worry. You needn’t be a scholar to enjoy it, and you can expect a stunning visual experience and plenty of action.
The new show is the creation of Leela Dance Collective, a company formed by the disciples of Calcutta-born performer, choreographer, composer and educator Pandit Chitresh Das, who founded his own school and dance company in California in 1979 and taught and worked there until his death in 2015. Das is credited with firmly establishing Kathak, a classical dance style from northern India, in America.
“Kathak is unusual in that it has a confluence of both Hindu and Muslim influences,” said Seibi Lee, co-founder of the Leela Dance Collective and artistic director of “Son of the Wind.”
“It’s also related to wandering minstrels, bards and storytelling from thousands of years ago. The dance form itself has an extremely wide range that the dancer needs to master over time,” Lee said.
“Son of the Wind” is a fresh retelling of a very old story. One of the central characters is Hanuman, also known as “The Monkey Prince,” who supports the exiled prince Ram in his battle against the evil demon king Ravan.
“‘The Ramayan’ is one of India’s great epics,” said Rina Mehata, another leading figure in the Leela Dance Collective. “It’s a poem written in ancient times, and it’s cemented in the consciousness of the Indian people because of its historical and religious significance. It’s a classic tale of good vs. evil.”
The Monkey Prince, son of the wind god Vayu, is not the hero of “The Ramayan,” but he is especially revered by the Indian people, so the Leela Dance Collective chose to focus on his role in the story, Mehta explained.
“This a new work,” Lee said. “However, it is very rooted in tradition, so we are staying within the tradition itself and also taking it a little bit into the contemporary day. We have an original musical score that we have developed with three musicians from India.”
As an outgrowth of Das’ work and teachings in America, the Leela company emphasizes diversity among its performers.
“Our dance collective actually was founded to include dancers from around the world. For this particular production, we have dancers from Mumbai, Denver, Los Angeles, Boston and a number from the Bay Area,” Lee said.
The production features 16 dancers, accompanied by four musicians, and the spacious stage at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall allows the show to stretch out a bit.
“Because this is a new work and we’re premiering it, the size of the venue itself at the Green Music Center has really informed how this production has come to life,” Mehta said.
“We have really focused a lot on the large dance sequences,” she explained, “and I would say the pure dance itself — with the story and expression, of course — really translates well in a venue like this.”