Traditions remembered and teachers honored
- Anita Nag and Shubha Baskar

April 28, 2011

The 3rd St. Louis Indian Dance Festival that took place from April 15-17, 2011 at the Clayton High School Auditorium, created an appreciation and understanding of the rich dance traditions of India. The assortment of dancers in the exceptionally well organized dance festival revealed the essence of dance intelligence. It is imperative to highlight that the opportunity to witness, applaud and experience a wide array of dance styles provided the audience a burst of vitality and sheer pleasure. These dances provide not only entertainment, but also reflect a deeper philosophical meaning of life. This festival presented 23 different dance teams constituting 134 artistes coming from different cities of USA and India and was enjoyed by more than 1200 art lovers across three evenings.

The festival was started off by Kris Weiser Dalton, a devoted student and an upcoming performer of Bharatanatyam. She had her initial training in Ballet and Jazz in the New York area. She presented traditional Bharatanatyam items such as Pushpanjali, Asaindadum and Tillana. Kris's participation represented the interest of the mainstream American population in learning an Indian art form and her performance was very well received by the local American population. Then Pallavi Chandak, a local Bollywood/folk dancer presented folk dances by her students Archana Reddy and others. Mohiniattam dancer Lakshmi Kurup from New York presented Natyamanjari, which portrayed the role of an annoyed heroine, who is astonished to see her beloved in her house after a long interval. Her presentation had subtlety and refinement at the same time. The classical performances were interspersed with folk dances such as the vibrant Bhangra performed by youngsters such as Gajan, Suyash, Anjana and friends, who rocked the auditorium with thunderous claps. Later, there was a collaboration of two styles, a jugalbandhi with Kathak (a north Indian classical dance form) and Bharatanatyam (a south Indian classical dance form), performed by Lakshmi Shriram (from Kentucky) and Ashwini Gogate (from North Carolina), exhibiting the vibrant movement and vocabulary. Aditi Bandhopadhyay's Odissi was an amazing dance with storytelling from the epics such as the Ramayana.
Soorya Performing Arts presents Ramayana
Sreyashi Dey and group
On the second day, Sneha Bagavandoss of Case Nritya, a student organization of classical dances in Case Western University, Ohio, presented Kavyanjali and Tirukkural. Akshata Sridhar's presentation was slow, yet elegant and she showed to be a promising dancer. Soorya Performing Arts presented Bhavayami, a famous piece depicting Ramayana. It was well balanced, and showed lots of promise of becoming a great dance sequence. Shalini, Sumi, Annuja and Amudha impressed everyone with their abhinaya skills. Seema Kasthuri's melodious voice added charm to the mesmerizing presentation which was choreographed by Guru Prasanna Kasthuri, who also played the mridangam for the show. Another highlight was an enchanting Odissi performance by Sreyashi Dey's team and the harmonious dance of twin sisters Ishika and Kritika with another talented dancer, Ananya Kar. "Manini," the abhinaya composition of Sreyashi Dey deserves appreciation as it portrayed her excellence and experience and presented a romantic nostalgia of Krishna and Radha. Abhinaya Dance Company (from San Jose) stole the heart of the audience with their impeccable dance movements and astonishing choreography of Guru Mythili Kumar, who extracted the best dancing capability from her team in which Rasika Kumar's performance stood out. Natya Dance Theater (from Chicago) presented "Shivam" and proved itself one of the best teams of the country. Guru Roopa Shyamasundar from Detroit deserved kudos for presenting a wonderful dance drama 'Desh' based on the history of India. Charlotte Moraga (from San Francisco, CA) who was honored with the title 'Gem of Dances' presented a flawless Kathak performance and made her Guru Chitresh Das very proud.
Abhinaya Dance Company from San Jose
Prathibha Natesan and group
On the third evening, Sujatha Srinivasan, a veteran dance guru from Cleveland, Ohio, presented 'Annamacharya Padanirjanamu.' She presented famous compositions of Annamayya such as Parama Purusha, Alarulu Kuriyaga and Dolayam. She was at ease with both nritta and abhinaya. Guru Hema Sharma, who also performed that evening with her students, received an award for her service to Indian performing arts in Kansas City area. The Washington University students from St. Louis presented an exceptional performance of Bhangra which kept everyone on the edge of their seats. The dance collaborations of the final days, particularly the performance of Modern, Jazz by University of North Texas with Prathibha Natesan was engaging as the manner with which it brought together two very different cultures is a feat that is frequently attempted but very rarely performed with such excellence. So also the Indian modern dancing by Anjali Tata, an alumni of UCLA, with Prof. Patrick Suzeau, head of Dance Department of Kansas University. Sunanda Nair presented a beautiful Mohiniattam performance and was honored with the title 'Abhinaya Shikhamani' by another Mohiniattam dancer Smitha Rajan. Pallavi Prativadi, who visited from India, gave a marvelous Kuchipudi performance.
Prasanna Kasthuri
Guru Prasanna Kasthuri, the main person behind the St. Louis Indian Dance Festival, performed the final dance of the festival. He presented 'Reflections' from his classical dance repertoire that included his past works related to Upanishads and Bhagavatham. His major dance number 'Bali Moksha' was crisp and elegant in the sanchari bhava. His performance was filled with neat nritta and sparkling abhinaya. His rhythmic footwork in Kathak was hypnotizing and his selection of items was good.

The host organization, Soorya Performing Arts felicitated Guru Hema Rajagopalan (Chicago, IL) and Guru Mythili Kumar (San Jose, CA) with Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing the 3 decades of service by these artists in USA towards promoting Indian classical and performing arts. Sitar player Ustad Imrath Khan honored these artists. St. Louis Indian Dance Festival is a unique dance festival, which has its foot in the past, but embraces the future with innovations. Art patrons have rightly said that "the St. Louis Indian Dance Festival is here to stay and promises to continue to bring the richness of the varied performing arts time and again to St. Louis."