Dance students explore Indian culture

Photo by Reid Bruner

Butler Theater’s new production of an ancient Sanskrit farce, “The Priest and the Prostitute,” premieres Thursday in Lilly Hall.

Director Kunju Vasudevan’s vision of the 1,400-year-old play drums up more than just a provocative title.

The Christel DeHaan Visiting International Theatre Artist is teaching and directing at Butler University this fall, along with Bhasi Puligara, Aneesh Chemuttathu Veedu and Jishnu Namboodiripad.  All of them are participating in the project.

The play tells the story of a priest who has given up all worldly pleasures while his student is overcome
by the temptations of life.

“The priest wants to teach his student to enjoy all aspects of life, not just the pleasant ones,” said Tyler Ostrander, a junior theater major who is playing the role of Ramalik in the production.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the rest of the story:

One day, the priest and his student walk through a garden when they see a prostitute and her friends enjoying life’s pleasures.

The priest is disgusted by this, but the student is entranced. The God of Death, upon seeing this, calls one of his messengers to bring back the souls of a chosen few. Subsequently, a snake strikes the prostitute, and she dies.

Her death greatly affects the student, but the priest takes little heed.

After some debate, the priest decides to exchange souls with the prostitute, bringing her back to life.

Thus, Death’s messenger returns to fix the problem.

The play does not follow a conventional Western format. There is no intermission or trips for refreshments. The 90-minute show has no acts but according to Ostrander does have defined sections, ­­­­ one of which includes an intricate dance performed by Puligara.

The production contains additional musical elements ­­­­such as  singing by Namboodirip and drumming by Veedu.

“All of these are different ways of telling the story, but it’s all the same story,” Ostrander said. “It’s just cool to see their culture from their perspective.”

Originally, “The Priest and the Prostitute” would have been performed exclusively in Hindu temples for only the highest ranking individuals.

Part of a special Indian dance-drama tradition, Kathakali is known for elaborate costumes and use of extravagant movement.

“What we’re doing at Butler is merely incorporating Kathakali elements into the production,” Vasudevan said.

Vasudevan said his team of professionals will provide those authentic elements.

“We want it to be as perfect as possible, but it’s really a team effort,” Kunju said.

“Kunju [Vasudevan] is great,” Ostrander said. “It’s cool to have them all over here. They each bring a specialty and new perspective that really helps us.”

The teachers are from Kerala, where the Kathakali tradition began.

“[Collaborating with the students] has been beautiful. I love working with all of them,” Vasudevan said.

Performances will be Nov. 4, 5, 10 and 12 at 8 p.m. or Nov. 6, 12 and 13 at 2 p.m.  in Lilly Hall 168.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Tickets can be reserved at the Butler Theatre Box Office or online at


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