Bhaav Chaturang, performed with creativity and scholarship by Shakti Dancers  
- Malathi Iyengar, Los Angeles, USA 

September 7, 2005 

Bhaav Chaturang, was an engaging Bharatanatyam dance performance presented by second generation Indian Americans on Sunday, at the James Armstrong Theatre in Torrance, California. All four dancers Maya Kadekodi, Uma Kadekodi, Manisha Parekh, and Sai Patil have been pursuing Bharatanatyam for several years diligently under their mentor Viji Prakash, artistic director of Shakti Foundation based in Los Angeles.  

Bhaav Chaturang featured powerful mythological personalities such as Mandodari, Radha, Meera, Sati, and Amba. Though the metaphors of relating the four seasons to the well grounded choreographic interpretations of the ancient stories were lengthy and unclear, the chosen episodes brought out the best in the dancers as they mimed and danced.  

Story telling is an ancient and honored art. Story tellers provide cultural continuity and preserve the past to serve as guides through the future.  Story tellers tell tales of heroes to provide positive examples, the legends that hold the community together and provide its identity, and the stories of foolish or evil beings to remind young and old, the penalties for not living correctly. Good story tellers do this without being melodramatic or pretentious. One such story teller is Viji Prakash. Having watched Shakti Foundation's productions over the years, what stands out is Viji's uncanny ability to be the most inspiring narrator and her consistent focus on bringing forgotten or rarely interpreted Indian mythological stories to the stage. Audiences feel like curious children when presented with sonorous telling of age-old stories by this gifted orator. One genuinely feels transported to another time and place.   

The original score for Bhaav Chaturang by flautist Mahesh Swamy was strong with a fine blend of carefully chosen melodies.  We heard aptly chosen ragas (musical scales) that brought out specific emotions in dancers as they internalized and depicted strong feminine characters of our cultural heritage.  The music was especially effective in the second half of the concert where the composition let one imagine Amba’s difficult life, which was danced by Sai Patil. The ensemble included Viji Prakash (dance conductor), Vidya Harikrishnan and Yamuna Kadekodi (vocal), Vedakrishnan (percussion), Mahesh Swamy (flute), and Krishna Kutty (violin). Vidya Harikrishnan, a gifted singer, sang the songs in various languages with ease and demonstrated improvisation and individuality. Vedakrishnan with his enormous percussion talent made us see and feel the drama.  

The performance opened with Pushpanjali as the dancers displayed Viji's Tanjore style of crisp Bharatanatyam technique and grace. The choreography let us see various dance sequences set to the quartet as they glided, swayed, and stomped covering the space in multiple angles. The costumes orange, red, blue and green made the dancers look like blossoming flowers as they burst out into fascinating patterns and lyrical vignettes.  

Manisha Parekh displayed a natural grace and flow with her convincing expressions as she portrayed Mandodari’s despair. Rama and Ravana's fight sequence performed in the silhouette was an impressive imagery. The juxtaposing of Meera and Radha worked well as Uma Kadekodi and Maya Kadekodi took us to their portals of love and devotion to Krishna. The sisters had good timing and coordination with one another as they intelligently executed transitions in movement and musical phrasing. Young Maya Kadekodi, a sprightly presence on stage certainly projects potential towards professionalism. Sai Patil, as Amba showed a range of emotions including loss, revenge, and resignation.  

The costumes for the specific acts were fragmented and did not impact the myths and legends in any particular way. The concluding Thillana brought out interesting geometrical shapes and breathtaking stills in spite of there being an abundance of speed and vocal recitation. 

Credit goes to the four dancers and Mythili Prakash, lead dancer of Shakti Dance Company for their research, individuality, and commitment as they contributed to the choreography and concept. They demonstrated that our Indian dance, culture and heritage will be a significant part of their lives. 

Malathi Iyengar, choreographer, visual artist, and author of the book ‘Dance & Devotion’ is the artistic director of Rangoli Foundation based in Los Angeles, California.