mara

Still from the film

Still from the film “mara.” Directed by Natalia Valerdi.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been developing the work that came to be Mara’s Daughters, part film and part choreography, this piece delved into the experience of distraction from being present in the moment. The work premiered in its full form at the Blurred Borders Dance Festival, hosted by the Patricia Rincon Dance Collective, in May 2015.

It was initially inspired in part by my experience living at the Sweetwater Zen Center in National City, where I experienced living on a very busy street, namely Highland Avenue, with city buses, high school kids, ghetto blasters, the constant sound of passing sirens, yelling matches coming from neighboring apartments, DUI checkpoints (yes in front of my little cottage) and sometimes strangers knocking on my door with the strangest requests. Contrasting that experience with the serenity of Zen Buddhist meditation happening in the Yurt at the back of the property, a stroll in the Zen garden maintained by the community, the intensity and clarity of Council, conversations with my Zen teachers, chanting on Sunday mornings, community potlucks and the joy of seeing my neighbor’s vegetable garden grow. There is truly nothing like meditating with loud Mexican “rancheritas” in the background and focusing on acceptance, that we all live on this block, have different lives,  make different lifestyle choices, and that is that.

The Sweetwater Zen Center community in 2013.

The Sweetwater Zen Center community in 2013.

I wanted to create a short film that recorded that experience somehow. I collaborated with filmmaker, artist and friend Roosevelt Ulloa and dancer Sarah Navarrette to make a short film that captured this experience. We shot the film on site at the Sweetwater Zen Center. Roosevelt kindly contributed video footage she had shot at the Tassajara Mountain Zen Center in Northern California. I gradually developed choreography out of this film.

IMAG3344In parallel, I started a conversation with Brian Harris who had spent time with some of the nuns supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project in Northern India. He made this audio recording, which inspired me because I felt the parallel in my life with his depictions of the nuns. It was the serenity of the birds and the nuns chanting in the background, and the power of this non-profit organization which sponsors over 700 nuns in India and provides them with education, health care, food, and shelter. Here’s their blurb:

The Tibetan Nuns Project was established under the auspices of the Tibetan Women’s Association and the Department of Religion and Culture of H. H. the Dalai Lama and is dedicated to educating and supporting nuns in India from all Tibetan Buddhist lineages.

– “About.” Tibetan Nuns Project. http://tnp.org/aboutus. Aug. 2015.

Brian allowed me to use audio recordings of the nuns in the development of the project. Some of the audio made it to the final product and for that I am ever so grateful. I support the Tibetan Nuns Project and encourage others to learn about them and support them as well.

I was thrilled to work with the talented dancers Sarah Navarrete and Bonnie Jiyoung Lee through the Patricia Rincon Dance Collective’s Blurred Borders Dance Festival, where I serve as Associate Director. Thanks to the encouragement and support of Patricia Rincon, Mara’s Daughters was welcome by audiences and received a wonderful review by Rebecca Romani, writer for Vanguard Culture called “Blurred Borders Dance Festival: nexus of creativity and exchange.”

It was an honor to share the stage with Lux Boreal Danza Contemporanea, who presented QR Move, and with Erin Tracy, who presented Better Metaphors, at the Blurred Borders Dance Festival in 2015.

In a way, the film mara and choreography Mara’s Daughters are an abstract representation of the demon Mara, who is described in this Wikipedia entry:

Mara (Sanskrit: māra)… in Buddhism, is the demon that tempted Gautama Buddha by trying to seduce him with the vision of beautiful women who, in various legends, are often said to be Mara’s daughters.

– “Mara (demon).” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mara_%28demon%29#cite_note-1. Oct. 2014.

And:

In some accounts of the Buddha’s enlightenment, it is said that the demon Māra didn’t send his three daughters to tempt but came willingly after Māra’s set back in his endeavor to eliminate the Buddha’s quest for enlightenment. Mara’s three daughters are identified as Taṇhā (Craving), Arati (Aversion/Discontentment), and Raga (Attachment/Desire/Greed/Passion).

– Guruge, Ananda W.P. “The Buddha’s Encounters with Mara the Tempter.” http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/guruge/wheel419.html#fn-26. Oct. 2014

However, the film mara is depicting a similar concept but more in alignment with the Zen Buddhist tradition. Although the specific words we used to describe the idea at the time escape me, I do remember the conversation Roosevelt and I had about surrender, and how it pertains to the process of the Zen student during meditation. She had recently completed her rigorous training at the Sweetwater Zen Center and found its expression so gracefully in her assistance editing the film.

I hope to find more opportunities to distribute this work, in film, in dance, and perhaps in other forms. For now, I close with the following Gatha (chant):

The Dharma, incomparably profound and infinitely subtle,
Is always encountered, but rarely perceived,
even in millions of ages.
Now we see it, hear it, receive and maintain it.
May we completely realize the Tathagata’s true meaning.

– Sweetwater Zen Center. “Gathas.” http://www.swzc.org/pages/gathas.html. Oct. 2014.

“Mara’s Daughters.” Choreography: Natalia Valerdi. Dancers: Bonnie Lee and Sarah Navarrete. Photgraphy: Jim Carmody.

img_4464

“Raga” section of “Mara’s Daughters.” Performed at Vanguard Culture’s Foodie Soiree. Choreography: Natalia Valerdi. Dancer: Bonnie Lee. With permission from Susana Peredo.

Mara’s Daughters and mara were made possible with the support from Patricia Rincon and the dancers of the Patricia Rincon Dance Collective Bonnie Lee and Sarah Navarrette, Jim Carmody and his photography, Roosevelt Ulloa, The Sweetwater Zen Center, Brian Harris, The Tibetan Nuns Project, The UC San Diego Department of Theatre and Dance, Susana Peredo and Vanguard Culture, by the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, The City of Encinitas Civic Arts Program.

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