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Intriguing dance dramas on American soil
- Jayashree Anand, Anita Sanjeeva
Photos courtesy: Soorya

May 12, 2019

The three day American Natya Festival is a premier Indian classical dance festival running for more than a decade now. Each year it provides opportunity for upcoming and professional dance groups from USA and India. It has become a main venue to share, showcase, appreciate their work. The 2019 festival running from April 19 to 21, 2019 showcased about 10 dance dramas, and featured more than 150 artists from all over USA and India. It also held the American Natya Idol competition. Curators of the dance festival - Guru Prasanna Kasthuri, Seema Kasthuri and Nagendra Sanjeeva - worked hard to bring in the best dance productions. Needless to say, it was a feast.

On the first day, hosts Soorya Performing Arts presented their major works of Kathak and Bharatanatyam. Guru Prasanna Kasthuri's choreography was brilliant in the portrayal of Gokula through the famous dance "Asaindaadum." The geometric coordination in Jatiswaram and Tillana was beautiful. Dancers moved between each other in a swift continuum, reconfiguring the space and engineering hidden entrances and exits. Samanvita Kasthuri presented a well-known Tyagaraja kirthanam, "Sogasuga" in Sriranjani ragam. She explored the meaning of philosophy of devotion of Rama through movement and abhinaya. Gracefully, she elaborated the life of Rama through the nine sentiments. Compositions of Shankaracharya, Balamurali Krishna, Dagar Brothers, and Purandara Dasa were presented.

The Kathak dance drama 'Parvati Kalyan' was pleasing to the eyes. The dancers presented the story with complete involvement. With beautiful props, the story showcased the marriage of Shiva and Parvati. Sara Parikh and Samanvita Kasthuri carried the show to new heights. The comedy scene was hilarious amidst the tense situation of firing of Manmatha.

Soorya Performing Arts

Vaigai Express

'Atma Linga' presented by the 'Rani' group of Bharatanatyam students, showcased the story of Ravana seeking the most powerful object - the soul of Shiva lingam. Hansika Sakshi and Mounica Gandi did justice to their roles as Ravana and Ganesh; Sanjana Ananda charmed in Narada's role; and Samanvita Kasthuri showed the prowess of dancing two styles by performing Bharatanatyam as Shiva in Atma Linga.

'Vaigai Express' by Guru Vandana Academy, Louisville, KY, was interesting. Akila Iyer presented her unique idea of train journey with suitcases carried by young Bharatanatyam dancers, as part of train journey in Vaigai Express from Chennai to Madurai. It was a unique idea to tell a mythological story. The production used the poems of Tamil Sangam literature, Thiruvilayadal Puranam, Thirupugazh, and Ganga Devi's Madura Vijayam. It was a novel concept.

Manipuri dancer Sanjib Bhattacharya presented "Priye Charushile," a well-known ashtapadi written by poet Jayadeva. He enacted the abhinaya of Radha's dissatisfaction with Krishna very effectively. His 'Dashavatara' looked impressive with usage of multimedia, through vivid display of paintings of incarnations. Sanjib Bhattacharya captured attention as a solo performer presenting a dance drama.

Sanjib Bhattacharya

Shubha Dhananjay's Natyataranga

Veena Seshadri presented two dances narrating the story of Krishna. One was through a partial varnam and other was an abhinaya on Bhaja Govindam. As a seasoned artist she delivered a neat presentation. Natyantaranga team from Bengaluru presented an amazing performance. This team included Guru Shubha Dhananjay along with Mudra, Maya and Yashasvini. It was a well-coordinated choreography of Odissi, Bharatanatyam and Kathak. Mudra's dance was impeccable.

Chitra Ramaswamy and Sanskriti School of Dance, NJ, presented 'Piper and Mouse,' innovatively connecting the West and the East with the stories of Pied Piper and Krishna. The combination of mythological and imaginative thoughts was remarkable. The senior dancers of the team danced elegantly. M.S Sukhi's music was apt and melodic.

'Sathyanarayana Katha' by Acharya School of Dance, Chicago, came out with vivid colors. Asha Adiga Acharya mesmerized the audience with her dashing-multi character role. She had a great supporting cast. Her usage of space was traditional. The production showcased three stories of popular 5 story chain of moral stories. It was well conceived and presented.

Sathyanarayana Katha

The Four Horsemen

'The Four Horsemen' by Jiva Performing Arts, New York, was an intriguing production that raised anticipation. It depicted the four vignettes of life and death - conquest, war, famine and death. It was choreographed by Sonali Skandan and Maya Kulkarni with music by Rajkumar Bharathi. The four dancers Sonali Skandan, Aishwarya Madhav, Amrita Doshi and Bharathi Penneswaran were at their artistic best. The group choreography focused and coordinated with musical patterns. The energy of the quartet provided a beautiful climax. Sonali Skandan did a wonderful job of infusing traditional art form to present something abstract and the experience was unique.

The last show of the festival was Anupama Rao Mirle's 'Shakti.' It showcased the struggle of women in the world of men. It shed light on ill-treatment of women from time immemorial. The dance drama was effective in few scenes. The production presented six aspects of a woman: friendship and loyalty, maternal and caring, persuasive and determined, powerful and fearless, fierce and compassionate, sensual and graceful. It also portrayed arshidvargas - lust, greed, jealousy, hatred, anger and vanity. Internalizing a fight was a nice concept. But the production lacked cohesiveness and total integration of the theme.

American Natya Idol attracted lots of young artistes, Samanvita Kasthuri from St. Louis, MO, won the senior most category of competition. Sweta Balaji from Ohio won in second group and Shrinidhi Sairam from Peoria, IL, won the junior group competition. The judges were gurus Shubha Dhananjaya, Sanjib Bhattacharya and Veena Seshadri.

The 11th American Natya Festival was conducted by Soorya Performing Arts, a not for profit organization devoted to Indian classical dances. It was supported by Missouri Arts Council, a state agency supporting performing arts in the state of Missouri.