Colorful Indian dances astound heart of America
- Mythili Narayanaswamy & Shubha Subbarao

April 27, 2010

The second St. Louis Indian Dance Festival held over the weekend of April 16th-18th, 2010 was a tremendous success with more than 55 performing artists and over 15 dance performances. The festival attracted close to 1000 people at the Clayton High School Auditorium in St. Louis, Missouri. Showcased were various dance forms not only from the East Indian subcontinent but also included certain collaborative styles such as Irish dance and the Spanish Flamenco which added an international flavor to the festival. The performances, costumes, music and dance complemented each other and gave a well-rounded experience to the patrons.

The brainchild of Guru Prasanna Kasthuri, the artistic director of Soorya Performing Arts, the festival brought over a dozen different dance styles to the public all on one platform. St. Louis watched highly professional artists perform with ease and grace, yet holding the nuances of their styles in great esteem. The traditional lighting of the lamp to inaugurate the three day festival was followed by a Bharatanatyam program by students of Soorya Dance Company. These highly talented students showed off their wonderful footwork and expressions accompanied by beautiful music. The highlight of Friday's performance was a solo Bharatanatyam performance by Suryanarayana Murthy, a disciple of Guru Dhananjayan, who had traveled all the way from Chennai, India. The audience was completely delighted with the performance. His footwork, gestures and abhinaya were perfect. Another show which mesmerized the audience was the Kathak dances from Kathak Nrithyakala Kendra, Chicago. With eye-catching costumes, this was a very enjoyable performance as the traditional Kathak pieces were followed by a few ‘fusion' pieces.
On Saturday evening, the audience was dazzled by Asha Dwarka, Chitra Kalyandurg, and Lavanya Thamire, artists from Kuchipudi Kalanidhi, Washington D.C, whose amazing expressions, footwork, and choreography was captivating. Apart from the routine dance number, they performed Nostalgia, a composition of Yanni, with elegance and brought an aura of rare creativity with Kuchipudi. Choreographer Anuradha Nehru was truly incredible. Yamini Saripalli performed pure traditional Kuchipudi. The festival featured contemporary Indian dances from Navarasa Dance Theater. The three artists performed with high energy. The performance combined dance, storytelling and martial art kalaripayattu. They tried to convey few stories which lacked enough background information, and thereby not understood by most of the viewers. Their attempt to entertain younger audience with their jokes and acrobatics was not very well received, but overall the performance was a bold attempt.

Madhumitha Roy's Kathak performance and choreographic style was breathtaking. Pampa Dance Academy from San Jose, CA did an amazing job. The Bharatanatyam dance drama, Paramananda, was the last show of the evening and it was worth the wait. Guru Nirmala Madhav's simple, yet captivating choreography presented a high caliber performance combining stories of Ganesha and Krishna in a smooth flowing repertoire, with a dance troupe of about 14 dancers in coordinated costumes.

There was an overwhelming crowd on Sunday. The auditorium was packed. The shows included dances from many states of India. There was Yakshagana and Kolata from Karnataka. The costumes were varied and remarkable. Smitha Rajan, the renowned Mohiniattam exponent, who resides in St. Louis, presented this dance style from Kerala. The audience liked Indique, from Dallas, Texas for their innovative Bharatanatyam program. Dandia, a traditional folk dance from the eastern state of Gujarat, was very enjoyable.
The grand finale of this festival was ‘Fanaa' (Destroyed in Love) by Soorya Performing Arts. Fanaa was a dance musical on love and war based on the conflicts in the Kashmir region of India. It was based on the super hit Bollywood movie by the same name. The reversing of a movie such as ‘Fanaa' on stage was done with great enthusiasm. The costumes and the choreography were mesmerizing. All the songs were very enjoyable. Guru Prasanna Kasthuri's musical talent was evident throughout the musical. Original scores of “Lal Kila Aur Raaj Sabha” and “Dhoom Dadaka hai har taraf” became instant hits. The audience loved the dance sequences. This show stood out from the rest. Fanaa is a very patriotic movie. The girl had to sacrifice her love for the sake of her country. The entire Fanaa dance musical was produced in Hindi language, which was difficult for non-Hindi speaking audience. It had a representation of violence to enact the concept of terrorism apart from love and patriotism, which was improper for the younger audience. Prasanna, Seema Kasthuri, Lily Sugathan, Falgun Dave, Sandhya played the key roles with about 40 artists, who not only performed with great ease and poise but also brought a novel ending to the three day festival.

This year's St. Louis Indian Festival was very well received by the art patrons of St. Louis and nearby areas as seen in the packed auditorium on all three days of the festival. There was a sense of cheerfulness, with the professional dancers from all over the world pouring into the city. Organizations such as the Missouri Art Council and Regional Art Council are to be commended to have taken the interest in investing in festivals such as these through generous grants. It is hoped that Missouri will continue to encourage the performing arts in the coming years as well.

Mythili Narayanaswamy is a dance patron and a Carnatic musician residing in St. Louis.
Shubha Subbarao, an author, dance patron, community volunteer, has written 3 books in English on different cultural topics of India.