6th St. Louis Indian Dance Festival
- Shubha Baskar

April 27, 2014

Along with the beautiful spring season, St. Louis also ushered in the 6th St. Louis Indian Dance Festival. Hosted by Soorya Performing Arts at the Clayton High School Auditorium, the weekend of April 11-13, 2014, the three day festival was a grand success. With the greens, whites and pinks of the spring season, the Indian dances added more vibrant colors that accompanied various traditional and contemporary dance forms.

The festival was dedicated to the gurus (teachers) of these art forms. Some of the gurus who were highlighted during the festival were Narmada, Vempati Chinna Sathyam, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair and Kalyanikutty Amma. The dedication and commitment of the gurus in molding the students and sharing such vast knowledge so that the art form could pass on to the next generation, was remembered each evening. The festival began with the traditional invocation which included sacred chants from Soundarya Lahari composed by Adi Shankaracharya, and songs on Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles, seeking the blessings of the elders, the gurus and the audience.

The St. Louis Indian Dance Festival, which is one of its kind in the USA, has seen tremendous growth over the past years. Artistes ranging across their acumen and geographies were invited to perform here. Major classical Indian dance styles of Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, and Kathak were showcased by both professional and the younger, upcoming artistes. One of the recurring aspect that Guru Prasanna Kasthuri focusses on each year is to invite second generation Indian American groups that have learnt the art forms and are continuing to blend their artistry and creativity, bringing to the larger audience, relevant modern day issues such as environment, population explosion, women’s issues and other social topics. One such invited group was Indique Dance Company. Jiva-Synergy in Nature was the special show that they brought to St. Louis that emphasized the role of nature and its impact on life and how important it is to preserve and nurture it so that it nurtures us. The young, energetic dancers combined both Eastern and Western classical dance forms, yoga and theatrical movements in their repertoire and created a stir amongst the audience. This presentation also seemed to add much value to the younger dance student population.

Slide show

The first day of the festival brought productions such as Nireekasha from Soorya Dance Company which had a good balance of melodious music from Seema Kasthuri and dance rhythms from Prasanna Kasthuri, to which the young students of Soorya danced with gusto. Nireeksha presented a new way of Bharatanatyam and Kathak dances. The theme was on modern poetry written by Vasantha Murthy. Young Samanvita Kasthuri and Shree Nivedita performed with grace and poise. Seema’s interpretation of mother watching child growing was very touching. Mounica as the young child impressed everyone with her abhinaya. Tillana / Tarana, a collaboration of two dance styles, captivated the audience.

Bharatanatyam soloist Anuradha Naimpally from Austin, Texas, performed with crispness and graceful movements which came through in alarippu, songs on Lord Krishna from the Jayadeva Ashtapadi, a song praising Lord Shiva, and concluding with a tillana in raga Hindolam. Kuchipudi exponent Dr. Saraswathi Rajathesh from Bangalore performed the Simhanandini nrithyam, which was in praise of the Goddess Kathyayini. Lakshmi Sanjay, a Bharatanatyam student of Guru Narmada, had her disciple / daughter perform a jathiswaram. She then performed an abhinaya piece. The evening concluded with Kathak se Kathak, an ensemble of pieces from Ramcharita Manas, Geetanjali and Bhagavad Gita. Kathak exponent Shila Mehta from Mumbai enthralled the audience, as she has continued to do so every time she has performed here in St. Louis.

On the second day, inaugural dances were presented by Soorya Dance Company students. They performed Vandana Trayee, comprising of a dance on Lord Ganesha followed by a composition of Purandaradasa. Siva Kutumba, a series of dances describing the power of Lord Shiva by the dance group led by Kaushi Subramanyam of San Antonio, Texas, captivated the audience. The Ardhanareeshwara item was very well performed as also the tillana where the troupe brought out some fast paced unique formations on stage that kept the audience mesmerized.

Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam was well remembered by Sri Krishna Parijatham, a magnificent production by his senior students. In the role of Rukmini was Dr. Kamala Reddy from Pittsburgh, who is also a practicing physician, and a dancer par excellence. The eyes of the rasikas were captivated by her fluid movements and graceful execution of abhinaya. Shobha Natarajan from Chicago, Sasikala Penumarthi and Revathi Komanduri from Atlanta, were the other stars of the show in the roles of Satyabhama, Krishna and Narada. Each role was so well played that it was hard to pick out the best amongst the best. The costumes, the music and the dance all complemented each other very well and made this production a mind blowing one, a perfect tribute to the guru.

On the final day of the festival, the students of Seema Kasthuri sang the invocation followed by Prasanna Kasthuri’s students performing a Kathak dance on Goddess Saraswati and a Tarana. The next program was yet another remarkable selection of the festival - Para Brahma Shivam by Aananda Dance Theater. The black and gold costumes were perfect for this dance production on Lord Shiva. The spellbinding performance of Janaki Nair’s troupe featured dance items Ardhanareeshwara, Shambhunatham, Shivastuthi and finally the Kshampana Shloka by Adi Shankaracharya. The next performance was by Smitha Rajan accompanied by talented dancers Anu Samrat, Sneha Krishnapillai, Smitha Vijayan and Lakshmi Kurup in the Mohiniattam style. The elaborate piece chosen was Swati Tirunal’s composition, “Bhavayami Raghuramam” which is based on Ramayana. The last production for the first half of the evening was Saakshi by Maitrii of Detroit, who brought in four dance styles by four exponents in their styles - Bharatanatyam (Radhika Acharya), Kuchipudi (Sandhya Sree Athmakuri), Manisha Dongre (Kathak) and Mohiniattam (Asha Subramanian). They came together in Yugma-the dance confluence, by showcasing all the dance styles and also tying it with Yamuna related stories, on Krishna, Shah Jahan’s love for his beloved, and a patriotic story based on Jhansi ki Rani.

The second half of the evening was a session of folk dances, such as Raas by the students of Saint Louis University, Bhangra by Washington University students, percussion by Tamil Sangham members, Kolata from Karnataka performed by Kannada Sangama, Garbha by Gujarati friends, and a unique dance choreographed by young kids, second generation Indian Americans, on Ugadhi, the South Indian new year. The audience kept calling out for an encore for these foot tapping, rhythmic folk dances.

Not only were the rasikas treated to a wonderful kaleidoscope of visual arts, they were also treated to a gastronomical delight in the form of delicious Indian cuisine, catered by local Indian restaurants, who were also supporters of the event. The 2014 festival once again brought the best in the performing arts to the St. Louis art patrons. It is St. Louis grown and will be a torch bearer for the Indian classical dances in the coming years as well as paving way for many such festivals to happen across the country. The visionary behind the festival, Guru Prasanna Kasthuri of Soorya Dance Company, thanked the festival committee, the board members, the sponsors, hundreds of volunteers, US Wide Financials, local grocery stores, local restaurants, Missouri Arts Council (MAC) and Regional Arts Commission (RAC) for their support and encouragement of the festival without whom this would not have been possible.