Valmiki Pratibha by Rabindranath Tagore, The Tagoreans - he Compass Theatre and Arts Centre, Ickenham
RABINDRANATH Tagore won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. Born in India in 1861, Tagore came as a boy to England, attending a public school in Brighton and then studying law at University College, London.
Although he is best known today for his poetry, he also wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, dramas, and more than two thousand songs.
Established by Tapan Gupta in 1965, and based in and around Golders Green, The Tagoreans believe in Tagore's philosophy of life and draw inspiration from his creativity. Their aim is to promote Tagore's work by bringing Bengali culture to the attention of audiences in the UK and Europe.
Tagore was only twenty years old when he wrote his first drama-opera, Valmiki Pratibha (The Genius of Valmiki).
It describes how the dacoit leader Valmiki, who lived around 400 BC, sees the error of his ways, is blessed by the goddess Saraswati, and goes on to become composer of numerous poems, among them the epic Ramayana.
In the piece, Tagore explores a range of dramatic styles, revamps a number of sacred hymns known as kirtans, and even adapts the melodies of English and Irish folk songs, transforming them into brigands' drinking songs!
This performance of Valmiki Pratibha was staged in partnership with the Hindu Cultural Association on June 7 as part of Hillingdon Arts Week, and was attended by Deputy Mayor Shirley Harper-O'Neill.
Director Gairika Gupta's vibrant and colourful production featured Dr Ananda Gupta as Valmiki, an excellent actor whose movements effectively conveyed his conflicting emotions.
The first three acts of the two-hour opera focus on the growing confusion experienced by Valmiki's band of brigands, who cannot comprehend why he has suddenly become so gentle and benevolent.
They, and all members of the cast, were convincing actors, who specialised in projecting their feelings through a wide range of movements and facial expressions. Linking the acts came a succession of beautiful dances, superbly performed by five graceful young women.
My only disappointment was that, other than the acting and dancing, nothing else was 'live'. The music, and all the singing, was pre-recorded, but I concluded that the Compass Theatre was simply not big enough to accommodate musicians and a chorus as well as the actors and dancers.
Seeing Valmiki Pratibha was a wonderful experience, a fascinating insight into a culture with which I was only vaguely familiar, and about which I now want to learn more. More information about the Tagoreans and the many event that they organise can be found on their website: www.tagoreans.org.uk