Natya 2009: Rich exchange of performances and ideas  
- Lata Ganesh, Washington DC 

 May 7, 2009 

The Natya 2009 music/dance conference on March 14, 2009 held at Towson University, MD, was hosted by Jayamangala, a non-profit organization in Maryland, co-sponsored by Indian Dance Educators Association (IDEA in DC) and the Theater dept. of Towson University, in Baltimore MD.  The event was extremely informative and interesting as it brought together various experts in Indian classical dance styles to participate in lectures, performances, panel discussion and a concluding Natya Quiz for students of dance.  In addition to bringing out the traditional aspects of classical Indian dances, the performers at this conference were extremely creative in trying to link traditional art forms to  contemporary music.  The conference also showcased the keen interest and enthusiasm of the young artistes in understanding the classical dance forms.  Beginning with Natya 101, an introduction to various Indian classical dance styles, some of the presentations were: 

The Dhananjayans' Nrityopahaaram presented by Puneet Panda was a lively performance that combined technique, grace and storytelling! Natyabhoomi's 'Natya in Laya' was an interesting choreography where interpretation of the same music by two distinctive styles of dancers was exhibited. The classical Indian dance by Anita Sivaraman was flawless.  This versatile artiste is a role model for young and upcoming students of Bharatanatyam style of dancing.   

'Carvings in Bharatanatyam' by Ranidevi's school Kalairani Natya Saalai was very educative. The demonstration of the 108 karanas by the group was truly amazing! It is a tribute to Guru Ranidevi that her students' performance reflected their keen technical understanding and certainly reflective of their intense training and practice. 

'Comptemporizing Natya' by Jayamangla was a treat to watch. Amjad Ali Khan once said, "What matters is that the listener enjoys the music and not whether he recognizes and appreciates the technical aspects or not!" The Jayamangala performance skillfully presented how a classical dance could be adapted to contemporary music and lyrics that effectively connect with the audience. 

Indian opera, Geya Nrutya by Prasanna Kasthuri was entertaining, interactive and educative. The demonstration-performance gave the audience an understanding to closely relate the lyrical story with expressive movements.  

'Thevaram' by Janaki Rangarajan gave us a rare insight to the devotional hymns, their beauty, meaning, structure and the musical scales - Panns, as they were called - which have their equivalent to ragas of Indian classical music. This performance was a demonstration of how ancient hymns can be expressed through the medium of Bharatanatyam. 
'Rhythms of Love' by Kala Shahi was a pleasing performance where the dancers gracefully and elegantly expressed the theme of their piece, 'love.'  It was interesting to notice the movements and gestures unique to Mohiniattam. 
One of the panelists Sahasra Sambamoorthi, a Bharatanatyam dancer from New Jersey, felt that "the conference was informal, relaxed, and informative.  It had a mixture of both information for beginners and interesting innovations and theories about the field." Another panelist Michele Minnick, faculty member of the Towson Theatre department congratulated the south Asian community in DC on a very well attended and successful event.  "It was a rich exchange of performances and ideas across the spectrum of traditional Indian dance. I enjoyed it immensely and felt privileged to take part in the conversation." 
The panel discussion 'Burden of Tradition' was moderated by Christel Stevens and featured Kuchipudi dancer Anuradha Nehru, Michele Minnick, and Sahasra Sambamoorthi. Prof. Stephen Nunns, Director of MFA program at Towson's theater dept. called it "a fantastic event, one of the most unique things I've seen in a while. And pulled off to perfection."    
The finale Quiz at Natya 2009 organized by Rani Devi included an on-the spot choreography for dance students of DC metro. 
It was heartening to see many of the teenager participants dressed in traditional half-sarees. 
"What a great way of bringing the microcosm of Indian dance and culture together!  I felt immersed in the collective beauty, power, and challenges of Indian dance." These words by Pallabi Chakravorti, Kathak dancer and Professor at Swarthmore College, PA, summed up the feelings of most people who attended the event.