The dance of Buddha

Korean monks, dancers and musicians give audience a glimpse of Nirvana.

Dance of Buddha 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
Dance of Buddha 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
Nirvana, a hypnotizing dance show from Korea, will tour Israel next month for the first time, after being presented in nearly 50 countries. The show, which is based on ancient ritual Buddhist dances, will be presented in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Herzliya and at Karmiel’s open-air theater as a part of the traditional dance festival. About 90 artists – dancers, Kodo drummers and musicians performing on other traditional instruments – will appear on stage.
The art of dance is very popular in Korea. Children are taught dancing in school from an early age, and about 50 of the country’s universities have dance departments, where classical, modern and traditional dance are taught and developed. Every city has a dance company of its own, in addition to the Korea National Ballet Company.
Buddhist dance is deeply rooted in Korea’s rich past, in its culture and history.
“Nirvana is not just another ethnic dance show but a religious dance that is performed on stage. For ages, this dance has been used to explain and teach people the philosophy of Buddhism. This dance is also part of the religious training of Buddhist monks,” explains Kim Eung-ki, a Buddhist monk, renowned scholar and teacher, who initiated Nirvana and visited Israel not long ago to promote it. “Korea,” he continues, “is the only country where this Buddhist dance, based on an important Yeongsan Jae ceremony, is taught. As such, UNESCO added it to the World Heritage cultural treasury two years ago.”
Kim Eung-ki, 47, who has academic degrees in history and religious science and is active in research and the preservation of his country's cultural past, says that some of the dances were restored from ancient Buddhist paintings.
Kim Eung-ki studied dance from the age of nine, when he entered a Buddhist temple. He says it takes 15 years for a monk to study the Buddhist philosophy, dance, music and music instruments, but he is teaching himself – and people around him – to be happy every day and in every place he finds himself.
It is not only monk who participate in Nirvana. Two-thirds of the performers are monks, and the rest are professional dancers. Kim Eung-ki explains that there’s no contradiction about it. A dancer who is not a Buddhist is able to present an authentic performance of this dance.
“We are a very old country with a very long history,” he says with a smile. “Buddhism has been here for two and a half thousand years, and it is not just a religion; it is our philosophy, our lifestyle. Granted, you can find Roman Catholics and Protestants among us, but Christianity has come to our shores some 100 years ago and has not rally changed our mentality.”
Nirvana will be performed on July 10 at the Jerusalem Theater; July 11 at the Performing Arts Center in Herzliya; July 13 at the Karmiel Amphitheater; and July 14 at TAPAC in Tel Aviv.