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Chandalika in the Bay area
- Jayanthi Balachandran
e-mail: jayanthi.balachandran@gmail.com

April 22, 2022

A mesmerizing evening unfolded in kaleidoscopic patterns of dance, music, theater, costumes, emotions and stage décor, all skillfully weaved into a rich and colorful tapestry.

'Chandalika,' a poignant narrative by the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, took center stage at Starbright Theaters, Campbell, CA on April 16, 2022. Collaborative in nature, performers from different dance schools in the Bay area, run by artistes such as Samidha Satyam, Rani Sunil, Uma Dhanapal and Indian Dance School, harmoniously came together under the able curation and direction of Ryan Nathan - the Director/Founder of Shanmukha Theaters (a non-profit organization in the Bay area dedicated to Indian classical arts). Ryan has curated and produced Indian classical dance programs for over three decades. He is instrumental in bringing together countless artistes and providing a platform for many through his vast arts programming efforts in the Bay area, CA.

Ryan Nathan
Ryan Nathan

'Chandalika' touches upon universal and egalitarian concepts of love, equality, compassion, humaneness and oneness in being. The story and its underlying essence was conveyed as a judicious combination of the dance-drama format and spoken word in English.The original musical score was composed by Praveen Rao, well-known musician from Bangalore.

The choreography for the production was exquisitely envisioned by Dr. Sanjay Shantaram (based in Bangalore, India) and Samidha Satyam (based in the Bay area, CA). Varying elements were featured in the choreography, such as classical Indian dance, contemporary dance, theater, folk dance, dialogues in English and picturesque backdrops/props, making for a vibrant and pulsating show.

However, in the midst of flamboyant outer elements, the gentle heartbeat of the theme was not marginalized. A different and artistic interpretation of Tagore's famous play was brought to light with intense emotions and thought provoking sentiments. "Why?", the protagonist Chandalika questions with a deep ache in her heart as she is relentlessly faced with isolation, ridicule and rejection for being an "untouchable" (a lower caste as labeled by societal norms). The gamut of human emotions rises like a phoenix from the ashes, almost as a counterpoint to the aural and visual imageries that surround it. The multi-dimensional dancing and emotive prowess of an accomplished artiste such as Samidha Satyam brought Chandalika to life before the very eyes of the audience, stirring empathy in them, at the plight of Chandalika's agony within.

Chandalika in the Bay area

Naveen Nathan was at ease with his layered depiction of the Buddhist monk Ananda - the serene, the intoxicated (by magical powers cast on him) and the abused (by humiliation and torture inflicted on him by outside forces). Maya, the mother of Chandalika, was vividly portrayed through a diabolical lens by Dr.Rupa Reddy.

The momentary "stillness" between Chandalika and Ananda was touchingly portrayed, when Chandalika finally breaks through all societal norms and offers water to the monk, who gratefully accepts it and emancipates her at last. The story unravels like cascading water through multiple "acts", each striking in its own way. Groups of young children stole the hearts of the audience through lilting songs rendered with charm, traditional costumes and buoyancy. Kudos to Rani Sunil and Samidha Satyam for their guidance.

Scenes of dreams and whimsical movements, emotional demons outfitted in eye-catching black costumes and foreboding formations, all-encompassing love and folk imageries with pomp and color were delightful highlights of the program with intricate choreography, unique costumes (designed by Ryan Nathan) and mellifluous music. Uma Dhanapal, Aanantha, Manasa Rao and many other talented dancers collectively brought in their unique and creative choreography.

The piece de resistance of the program was the benevolent guidance by the monk to Chandalika - profound, compassionate, soul-stirring and uplifting. Rasanubhava, an experience evoked by the performance at large, was instantly created, touching the audience and inextricably uniting the performers and the onlookers as one.


Jayanthi Balachandran is an arts enthusiast and enjoys writing and speaking on dance.


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