With the success of the live show last November we are bringing this stunning performance to your screens for 3 days of magical entertainment.

In celebration of Vesak, the Buddhist festival of enlightenment we have the digital premier of this wonderful Thai folk tale. Tune in on to watch anytime on this day.

Thursday 7th May, from 4.30am – 10pm (UK time)

If you are looking for something for this weekend – we’ve got it covered!

Sit back, relax and tune in anytime, we’ll also be screening this show from Saturday 9th, 10am – Sunday 10th May until 10pm (UK time)

Below the donations box you’ll find this full production video filmed live at Wiltshire Music Centre in 2018 to celebrate “Vesak”, the day of the Full Moon in the month of May, which is the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world. 

Mahajanaka Dance Drama brings together award winning artists from Thailand and the UK to retell Mahajanaka Jataka – one of the oldest surviving stories in the world.

The co-production between Neon Dance and composer / producer Sebastian Reynolds will be accompanied by a 10-minute talk from Dr Sarah Shaw, member of the Faculty of Oriental studies at Oxford University.

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Full length film of Mahajanaka Dance Drama.

Fascinating interview with Dr. Sarah Shaw on the history behind the story of the Mahajanaka.

Jatakas are typically presented in modern day Thailand as large-scale ballet or operatic works. However, in this contemporary adaptation, the team has chosen to cast only the two central characters – played by Thai dance artist Pichet Klunchun and Neon Dance company dancer Tilly Webber.

The performance is accompanied by live music from Great Lekakul and Pradit Saengkrai, and traditional songs are performed alongside an original score from composer Sebastian Reynolds.

The team have also enlisted Sun and Moon Studios to create a puppet-style digital animation designed to be projected during the performance and help tell the story of Mahajanaka Jataka.

The story of Mahajanaka

Mahajanaka Jataka is one of the ten last lives of the Boddhisatta (Buddha to be) as he finally perfects the ten qualities that will enable him in his last life to attain the Nibbanna (enlightenment) and be able to teach the path for others to follow.

The story is particularly well known in Thailand and Sri Lanka: it describes the aspirant for Buddhahood, Mahajanaka, making his way to reclaim his rightful kingdom. After his boat sinks he swims in the ocean for seven days and seven nights before the Goddess of the Ocean, Maṇīmekhalā, rescues him. Then he takes the kingdom, but eventually renounces, to practise meditation as an ascetic. The swimming scene is particularly renowned, as a demonstration of vigour in adversity. This adaptation of the story focuses on Mahajanaka’s relationship to the three central, matriarchal characters.

Thai dancer Pichet Klunchun performs as the Bodhisatta in the three ages of man. British dance artist Tilly Webber performs firstly as the mother pregnant with Mahajanaka, symbolically dancing with a singing bowl filled with water when, as a widowed queen, she is forced to leave her kingdom with her unborn child. She then features as his saviour Maṇīmekhalā, who takes him from the sea to his true home. Finally, she appears as his wife, Queen Sīvali, whom he marries and who tries to dissuade him from renouncing.

The combination of solos and duets between the two performers explore parallels in the narrative, such as firstly the mother pregnant with Mahajanaka being rescued by the god Sakka in a heavenly carriage, to Mahajanaka being rescued in the ocean by Maṇīmekhalā. And there are symbolic parallels between Mahajanaka’s swim in the ocean and his later swim through crowds of people and his efforts to leave his wife Sīvali at the end of the story. There is much exploration of the character development of both archetypes.

This is particularly so when Mahajanaka, now king, in the final passage, then decides to renounce and go into the holy life. It is there too in Sīvali’s initial attempts to prevent him from leaving, before she lets him go, renounces worldly life and also goes into meditative bliss.

A striking contrast to some of the traditional folklore ‘adventure story’ tropes of the narrative is the fact there is no antagonist involved. The character that is the Buddha’s nemesis in his final life (Devadatta), who plagues him all throughout his huge round of rebirths as the Boddhisatta, is absent. The drama stems from the tension between the male and female leads, and their personal, spiritual journeys, which are both ultimately rewarded with salvation.

Mahajanaka Jataka is traditionally associated with the Buddhist quality of Viriya, or effort, and while this quality is very much present in the adventures of Mahajanaka, it is ultimately renunciation (Nekkhamma), another of the ten ‘perfections’, that is stressed. Throughout the story we see various examples of the act of letting go or renouncing: the story, for instance, begins with the pregnant queen having to flee her city as her husband, the king, has been killed by his brother due to a courtly intrigue. Later, the renunciation of both Mahajanaka and Sīvali are explored in detail.

The dance pieces are accompanied by a mixture of traditional Thai songs, and some new electronic compositions, which are almost entirely made from processed audio from recordings of Thai instruments. Similarly, the choreography is a fusion, in the truest sense, between Thai traditional and western contemporary dance. There are some short, animated sequences, which reference Thai shadow puppetry; a traditional storytelling platform long associated with Jataka story telling. There are also some specially produced recordings of Thai Buddhist monk Ven. ChaowKhun PhraRajawithetpanyakhun chanting the introduction, epilogue and verses of renunciation of Mahajanaka Jataka from the
original Pali language texts.


Mahajanaka Dance Drama Creatives:

Choreography & Direction: Adrienne Hart

Original Score: Sebastian Reynolds

Dance Artists: Pichet Klunchun & Tilly Webber

Musicians: Thai Woodwinds (Pii-Nai & Khlui) Great Lekakul, Gong Circle & Drum (Khong Wong Yai & Taphon), Pradit Saengkrai

Electronics: Sebastian Reynolds

Animation: Sun & Moon Studios 

Dramaturgy: Miranda Lawrence

Costume Design: Sophie Meyer, Emma Lyth & Andie Scott

Lighting Design: Frazer Riches

Academic consultant: Dr Sarah Shaw


Support and acknowledgments:

Mahajanaka Dance Drama has been funded and supported by Arts Council England, British Council, DanceXchange, Oxford Dance Forum and Oxford City Council’s Culture Fund.

Many thanks to the Kickstarters who backed our initial R&D phase in 2016.

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