Melbourne’s three-month Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts (Asia TOPA) celebrated the creative imagination of artists and cultures in the Asia-Pacific region. As part of the festival, Study Melbourne teamed up with Asia TOPA to offer international students free tickets to the world premiere of Samsara on 5 March 2020.

In the audience were Study Melbourne Ambassadors Güler Arslantaş and Yiran Wang, who shared their thoughts on this unique merging of Chinese and Indian culture through the language of dance.

Güler Arslantaş(Turkey)

Heavily influenced by the Buddhist perspective on self, Samsara deals with the obstacle humans face while trying to achieve their true self. The language of Samsara is mainly Sanskrit, which happens to be the language of worship in Hinduism, Jainism and, of course, Buddhism. The name of the show itself is Sanskrit for ‘wandering’.

The concept of Saṃsāra in Buddhist philosophy refers to the painful and endless cycle of re-birth and death until achieving nirvana. It is possible to observe this theme in the Chinese story of Journey to the West, from which the performance draws many inspirations.

The performers Aakash Odedra and Hu Shenyuan represent the two diverse geographies of Buddhism and their unified art bring the stories from these lands together. Their synchronisation with each other as well their harmony with the music take the show from being a performance to being an experience.

But of course, this experience goes beyond just the choreographers. The composer Nicki Wells’ sentimental voice deliver the story in such a way that the language barrier gets neglected. Moreover, the drummer Beibei Wang’s unmatched sense of rhythm keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.

Samsara is an amazing piece of contemporary dance performance – from its incredible lighting to set design to performers and musicians. If you want to watch a unique modern art, Samsara might be just that.

Samsara - Asia Topa © Nirvair Singh, Arts Centre Melbourne

Yiran Wang (China)

Before heading into the performance, I had little idea about the meaning behind Samsara – the endless cycle of death and rebirth in Buddhism. Yet, this notion is clearly explored and expressed throughout the performance.

Both dancers Aakash Odedra and Hu Shenyuan demonstrate the struggles of self-development to the audience through their impeccable movements on stage. Along with the lighting, sound and drum this piece perfectly serves the theme of Samsara. That is, to learn and accept different versions of true self on the self-discovery journey.

Drawing on diverse cultural elements including Chinese folk dance and classical Indian dance form Kathak, Samsara tells a story from a joint cultural perspective. As an audience member, it occurs to me that although I have a limited understanding of Indian culture and rituals, I can still largely relate to the shared concept of cyclicality.

This just proves that art itself is a universal language that speaks to all people and is able to evoke emotions, ideas and thoughts. It turns out that the two dancers share no common language, yet they coordinate so well with each other. Both of them highlight the spiritual, instant connection that they have built upon initial meeting, which is a strong bond formed based on cultural exchange in the form of art.

Art truly breaks any boundary set by geography, race or language.